Geographical Range Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (in Africa)
Habitat Dense rain forest
Scientific Name Okapia johnstoni
Conservation Status Endangered

Although okapis have stripes like zebras, they are actually most closely related to giraffes. These large hoofed mammals were not known to science until 1901, probably because of their secretive lifestyle. Even today, the okapi largely remains a mystery to the outside world. They live a quiet life in the lush rainforest. Their velvety dark striped coats create an almost perfect camouflage in the low light of the forest understory, and their keen hearing helps them detect predators at a far distance. Okapis browse on a diverse diet of leafy vegetation.

Threats to Okapis

Habitat destruction has been the greatest threat to okapis. In 1992, the Democratic Republic of the Congo set aside a portion of its Ituri Forest as a preserve for these and other threatened wildlife. But the species is still in trouble, and is among those animals that winds up victim to the illegal trade in "bushmeat".

Okapis (and other mammals) are being killed for their meat. In some cases, the hunters are poor people who need protein to survive. But more and more, the carcasses are being sold to cities, where bushmeat is bought as a "gourmet" food.

Conservation groups are working to solve the bushmeat crisis before it's too late. To learn more about what's being done to help okapis and other bushmeat victims, read about the work of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF).

The Zoo is Helping Okapis

The Saint Louis Zoo is a participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for okapi (see sidebar). For 28 years, the Zoo has supported the conservation of okapi ex situ (protecting a species outside its natural habitat) and in situ (in its natural habitat). The Saint Louis Zoo's WildCare Institute, in close cooperation with Okapi Conservation Project, the AZA Okapi SSP and many AZA partner institutions, supports the in situ okapi conservation efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 1992, the Saint Louis Zoo and WildCare Institute have provided more than $200,000 to okapi conservation in situ.

About Okapi Conservation Project

The Okapi Conservation Project was initiated in 1987 to secure a protected area for okapi in the wild, while preserving the biological and cultural dynamics of the Ituri Forest. This project provides support for training and equipping wildlife guards and lends community assistance (clean water, medical services, school supplies, etc.) to the people living next to the reserve. It also offers conservation education and care for managed breeding and research. Learn more about this program.

What Can You Do?

What can you do to help okapis? You can help protect their habitat. Make sure that you, your family, and friends recycle old cell phones. Cell phones contain cobalt, which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and significantly impacts the Okapi's natural habitat.

Fun Facts

  • The stripes on the okapi's rump and legs look like streaks of sunlight filtering through the trees
  • The okapi’s tongue measures 14-18 inches long
  • Okapis are sometimes referred to as "forest giraffes"