There are many animals in this world. Many, like the zebra
or the deer, are well known.
But how about an animal that looks like a mixture of the two – but is neither?
So let us venture into the forest of Africa to learn about a strange, shy creature – the okapi.
What in the world is an Okapi?
The okapi (O-ka-pee) looks like a deer-zebra mix.
But it isn't. It is actually classified as a member of the giraffe family (actually, there are only two species in this family).
It may not be readily noticeable, but, from a biology standpoint, there are many similarities.
Both have ossicones – hornlike bumps on the top of the head.
Long, versatile tongue – Both use their long tongue to help get food. In the case of the okapi, its tongue can reach 18 inches. It uses it to clean its eyes and ears.
Okapi and its tongue, picture taken by Kaelin.*
They both have long necks.
They share a similar walk – The front and back right legs move together; likewise, the left legs move together.
The okapi has some interesting features of its own:
The okapi is a shy creature who likes being on its own.
Many animals mark their territory – as anyone with dogs will know. The okapi marks its territory using glands down near its hooves.
Their ears can turn towards the back to help pick up sound from behind.
To the ends of the Earth
The okapi lives in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This makes the okapi a forest version of the giraffe – having a long neck but not needing to be as long as its longed-neck cousin.
A star is born
The okapi don't have a fixed mating season. However, the female only gives birth to one child at a time. But an expecting mother okapi has a long wait – they will be with child for a least 14 months! (A long pregnancy is another thing they have in common with giraffes).
That's a long time to wait to see what your child will look like.
The okapi is a unique and, I dare say, strange animal. But doesn't the discovery of such creatures strike at the heart of discovery and exploration? Indeed it is the thrill of such discovery that led early explorers to face great hardships to see new things. Likewise, it is this thrill that leads us to toil at our schooling to learn new things about the world around us.
The okapi are different, sure. But it also serves to remind all of us why we go through our personal journeys of discovery.
On the web
Okapi | Curious Creatures
This video goes over the characteristics of this fascinating creature.
Okapi Walking in the Forest
This short video clip shows an okapi walking in a forest of its natural habitat. A pretty rare sighting – given the shyness and the limited number of these creatures.
*Shared through Creative Common license 2.0.
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