20 Facts about the Okapi to Impress Your Friends!

Some of you must wonder, what is an okapi? Well, take a look at the picture on the right! It is a strange-looking animal, to say the least! Now I am going to share with you, 20 facts about the okapi to help you impress your inner circles of friends.

By the way, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, and in response to your next question, the picture has not been doctored with Photoshop or with any other software for that matter! The Okapis do exist!

I have outlined here some basics along with fun and weird facts concerning the okapis! So, without further ado, let’s get acquainted with the okapi!

What a Strange Looking Animal!

First off, when you get to see an okapi up close, you’ll notice that it looks more like a cross between a zebra, a giraffe, and even a donkey! The coat of the okapi is of a brownish color with white stripes on his hind and front legs, along with a face that shares some features with the giraffe, and the okapi’s overall shape is very similar to a donkey or some will say an antelope.

The okapi belongs to the family of the Giraffidae, and its closest relative is the giraffe, even though it looks more like a zebra at first glance!

Did you Know That:

  1. The okapi is the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  2. The okapis were entirely unknown before the 20th century. Their existence, as well as their acknowledgment as being a distinct species, came in 1901.
  3. The other names given to the okapi are the forest giraffe and the forest zebra, because of their appearance. However, the okapis bear another name: “African Unicorn”. Can you guess why? The name comes from the fact that many people believed the okapi was a myth!
  4. The okapi is listed as an endangered species because their numbers in the wild are estimated to be around 10,000-35,000.
Facts about the okapi— view of an okapi's stripes on its behind.
derekkeats, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, the next question becomes, where can I find the okapis? The Okapis live in the Ituri rainforest in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They prefer dense forests located at an altitude of 500 m to 1500 m (1,600-4,900 ft).

Basic Facts about the Okapi

  1. The body length is about 2.5 m (8.2 ft) with a height up to the shoulder of 1.5 m (4.9 ft).
  2. The okapis weigh between 200 and 350 kg (440-770 lbs).
  3. One interesting, as well as an odd fact, is that the females are bigger than the males.
  4. The okapi lifespan is 20-30 years.
  5. The gestation period lasts from 440 to 450 days. Only one calf is born and weighs between 14-30 kg (31-66 lbs).
  6. The Okapis are herbivores. Their favorite foods are shrubs and lianas. However, they are not picky eaters, since they can eat more than 100 different types of plants and some of which are poisonous to humans! They’ll get their minerals by eating sulfurous clay found on the riverbanks and charcoal coming from burnt trees!
  7. The only predators known to the okapis are humans and leopards.

Now, it is time to dig a little bit further:

The Weird Side of the Okapi

  1. After birth, the young okapis will spend the first few weeks of their life in hiding in the dense vegetation. They don’t defecate for the first 4-8 weeks of their life! Why? They don’t eat on a regular basis, and they want to avoid being detected by unwelcome guests since the smell would give away their location and attract predators!
  2. The okapis don’t have a very sophisticated communication system, mainly because their vocal cords are not well developed. They only emit three sounds! The first sound is a “chuff”, used as a contact call between okapis. The second sound is made by the female during the courtship period and is a “moaning” sound. The last sound, which is a “bleating”, is made by the youngsters when in distress.
  3. The males are always on the move, whereas the females are sedentary.
  4. They are solitary animals that only come together for mating.
  5. The okapis have excellent hearing, and they can move each ear separately. However, they have poor eyesight, but an incredible sense of smell. So, they will be able to hear and sniff the presence of a predator before they could even see it!
  1. The okapis have a unique way of walking which is very similar to the giraffes. They will move forward both legs from the same side of their body at once.
  2. Just like their cousins, the giraffes, the okapis use their long black prehensile tongues that can reach up to 38 cm (15 inches) for stripping the branches of their leaves, and also for grooming their eyelids and their ears.
  3. The males have horns called ossicones that can reach up to 15 cm (5.9 inches) in length, whereas the females have bumps instead of horns.
  4. The okapis only sleep 2 hours per day!
Facts about the okapi— the okapi's long tongue!
kaelin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


As you can see the okapis are unusual creatures that can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and within the dense rainforests. Furthermore, up until the beginning of the 20th century, the okapis were not considered to be a species but a myth!

At first sight, you might think that the okapis are a subspecies of the zebras, which is false! The okapis are a distinct species that share many similarities with their closest relative the giraffes, such as their long prehensile tongue, and their odd way of strolling.

If you are looking for some more weird and fun facts about the wildlife, to impress your colleagues at work, you should read the following: Boost your knowledge – facts about the African wildlife, by clicking here.

If you have any questions or thoughts about the okapis, please leave a comment below. I am always looking forward to your feedback!

Photo of author

Sonia Zannoni

My name is Sonia, a traveler enthusiast and the CEO of Wildlife Safari Adventures. My goal with Wildlife Safari Adventures is to provide insightful information to help you better plan your African travels. Are you ready to uncover the many facets of the Dark Continent?

26 thoughts on “20 Facts about the Okapi to Impress Your Friends!”

  1. The Okapi has been my favorite animal for years. I always visit zoo’s when visiting other cities or states. There was a mobile petting zoo set up at my son’s college for “Parents Day”. I forgot I had a son when I spotted an Okapi! OMG!

    I was finally going to come face to face, reach out and touch, feel what her beautiful coat feels like. It felt like sable. I fell even more in love! Is it good for her to be living in this environment? How did they acquire it? Your article stated they were “solitary”. I just wondered how she feels about being around people all the time! She was absolutely patient, gentle and accepting of me. However, I would feel horrible knowing my joy was causing her anxiety or harm in any way.

  2. I visit the okapis every time I go to the San Diego zoo. I’ve noticed that the baby okapi has a ridge of hair on their back which gradually goes away in about their first year. The keeper remarked that little is known about the hair. Any insights?

  3. The okapi is truly amazing! I have a question though: What about the eyesight makes it bad? I’m writing a paper on adaptation and it would be great to know. Thank you!

    • To answer your question about the okapi’s poor eyesight, it’s because they live in the dark forests, so their eyesight is not as developed as other animals. Like the bats, for instance, which live in caves (in the dark), their vision is poor. It’s all part of adapting to your environment since the okapis live in semi-darkness, where you can’t see much anyway. They have developed others’ senses, such as hearing and sense of smell, and greatly rely on them instead.

      I hope that I have answered your question. If not, let me know below.

  4. Hi Sonia,

    Okay, so this is seriously cool. What beautiful animals!! I love learning about this kind of stuff. There is so much to be learned about the world, and this is a prime example. Until now I had no idea that these animals even existed. And they can even live up to 30 years! Wow! Super interesting. Thanks for sharing!


    • I find the Okapis to be quite endearing after you got used to their looks, of course! Before coming across a picture on the internet, I was also clueless about their existence. Since, by nature, I am a curious person, I decided to look further, and the result is this post to share with others my discoveries about this fascinating animal, the okapis.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hi Sonia,
    The okapi has beautiful stripes! But are their stripes unique to each, like zebras? (I understand that their stripes are like a fingerprint with zebras – unique to each individual).

    Have the okapi been successfully kept in zoos, and is there a need for captive breeding programs since you said they are endangered?

    You stated that they eat over 100 species of plants but are the plants all native to the Congo, or are they readily available in other parts of the world, so they are easy to get hold of for zoos?

    Thanks, Rachel

    • As far as I know, the okapis’ stripes are not like the zebras’ stripes. The pattern is not unique as for the zebras.

      The okapis are rare in the wild, with about 10,000 – 35,000 remaining. Therefore, they are primarily found in captivity, and many of those places include the San Diego Zoo, Disney Animal Kingdom, and the White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida.

      The okapis are not fussy eaters and can eat various plants. These plants are not endogenous to Congo and comprise the fungi, leaves, roots, twigs, and fruits. As a result, the okapis can easily be bred in captivity which explains why your best opportunity of seeing an okapi is by going to the zoo!


  6. Hi Sonia,

    I just viewed your website. I just learned something new today. I never heard of an animal, okapi.

    If I would see one of those in the zoo, I’ll be like what do you call those. It looks like a zebra and giraffe combined. I’ll be like what do you call that a girebra? Lol.

    • Well, before you read my post, if you have spotted this strange-looking animal at the zoo, you would have been clueless and resorted to reading the signboard to get an idea of what an Okapi is. But from now, if you visit the zoo and catch a glimpse of the Okapi, you will be able to tell the other visitors all about the Okapi!

      I like the name you selected for the Okapi! I find it to be catchy and easy to remember!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I’ve never seen an okapi in real life before, and after reading this post it’s definitely going on my bucket list!

    I can see how they’re related to the giraffe; their heads and tongues seem very giraffe-like.

    Okapis on their own seem so cool, but these facts make them even more so! I had no idea they didn’t defecate for a month or two. That first time must be very confusing for them!

    Thanks for such a fun and educational post!

    • What I find amazing is the fact that the male okapis have horns! What is the purpose, since the females don’t have horns!

      Another thing that did surprise me when I first read about it is the gestation period, which is longer than humans since it lasts between 440-450 days. Can you imagine being pregnant for over 1 year!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Hi Sonia,

    I am a bit embarrassed about not knowing what an okapi is. I know I’ve seen them rarely in the zoo’s, but never took the opportunity to get to know anything about the poor animal.

    Your post is very interesting in that the animal was just recently discovered in 1901 and is already on the extinct list, even more so because the only enemies are the humans and the leopards.

    Makes one wonder.


    • The Okapi is found in Congo in an area that isn’t very accessible, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed by the fact that you never heard of the okapi before!

      The reason why the okapi is listed as an endangered species, is because of poaching, loss of habitat. And in recent years, the okapis are being killed by the rebels.

  9. Nice information about the okapi. I didn’t know that such animal existed. It looks like a goat, but its sense of smell and hearing is like the one of a dog! It’s so cute that I want to raise this animal in my own home. Does it have other breeds or its just one type only? Such a great article.


    • At first glance, the okapi has a peculiar look, but once you get used to it, it’s actually quite an endearing animal!

      As for the breed, the okapi is unique, there are only one species, and the scientific name for the okapi is Okapia johnstoni.

  10. Excellent article. I learned so much. I’m definitely going to impress my friends. I never even knew a okapi existed, and I’m sure none of my friends do either. Its like a bunch of animals got mashed up together. What a fascinating animal. I had no idea that the okapi is the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    • Before writing this post, I didn’t know either about the existence of the okapi. Okapis are impressive animals, to say the least. I used some of the facts about the okapi to show off to my friends!

      I wish that, like the okapis, I could function with only 2 hours of sleep per day! I would then have so more time to accomplish everything I want to do during the day!

  11. Hey! Thank you for these facts. I chuckled a little bit at “African unicorn” as my mind tried to put together traditional unicorn with okapi. I saw a video about them a while ago and thought that it was end result of some weird experiment. But thankfully that’s not the case. It would be interesting to know how they evolved. Maybe you have some ideas? Also their two hour sleep is amazing. I would be happy to sleep only two hours and wake up fresh and productive.

    • You know, the first time I saw an Okapi, I also thought that they were the result of an experiment from a mad scientist and that they had been accidentally released into nature!

      The only thing I can tell you is that the okapis are part of the Giraffidae family. As for the evolution of the species into what it is today, I have no idea, as I’m not an expert on evolution and animals!

      I would love to function with only sleeping 2 hours per day. Still, unfortunately, I need way more than that!

  12. Well I’ll be brutally honest with you here ( and at the risk of sounding stupid! ), I’d never actually heard of the okapi before I ended up on your article today ( shame! ).
    But what an absolutely stunning looking creature – we really are lucky on this planet to have so many beautiful creations – great article thanks!

    • Well, to tell you the truth, up until very recently, I had never heard or seen an okapi, either! I guess that the fact they can only be found in one African country: the Democratic Republic of Congo, doesn’t help!

  13. Ok I was doing research on some animals, and I ran across your article. I have to be honest, I had no idea what an Okapi was or that it even existed. This is a pretty majestic animal to say the least. The look of it alone is enough to turn peoples heads. For it to be the symbol of Congo is just amazing! I also had no idea that it would be an endangered species, but then again, maybe that’s why there aren’t many in Zoo’s and the such. Great stuff, thank you!

    • It takes a while to get used to their look… Nevertheless, they are indeed fascinating creatures. And you are right, your best chance to catch a glimpse of an okapi will be at the Zoo! Because they live in a war zone at the moment, and to add insult to injuries, the rebels have been killing the okapis!


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