[ Okapia johnstoni ]

Quick Facts

HEIGHT: 5 to 6 feet (at shoulder) 

6 to 7 feet

WEIGHT: male: 440 to 660 pounds; female: up to 500 to 750 pounds
WILD DIET: leaves and other parts of many plants, probably also eating fruits and seeds
ZOO DIET: alfalfa hay, grain pellets, fruits, vegetables, and greens; browse materials (such as branches with edible leaves) are provided in season
DISTRIBUTION: Equatorial forests of the northern and east-central regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo
HABITAT: dense, damp forest


A Rainforest Wonder

Best of Show
Okapi have an interesting look, setting them apart from other animals. Before much was known about them, they were called “African unicorns.” Aside from a similar tongue and head, including ossicones, or hair-covered horns, okapi do not look much like their closest relatives, giraffes. Their neck is not as long and their oily and semi-waterproof coat is entirely different. It is a rich brown to burgundy color with creamy white “stockings” for legs.

In the rump area is another startling feature—stripes—almost like a zebra’s, but not quite. These distinctive markings may serve as a guide for young calves following their mother through the forest and as camouflage to protect against predators. Okapi seemingly disappear within the strips of sun streaming through the forest canopy. Okapi can track each other with a tar-like substance they produce through scent glands under each foot, which is used for marking territory.

Hold the Meat
Just like giraffes, their long, prehensile tongue is essential for browsing. Okapi are herbivores and their entire diet depends on their ability to forage, pulling prime leaves off prickly branches. In order to survive, okapi must eat between 45 to 65 lbs. of leaves, twigs, and fruit a day.

These elusive creatures move mysteriously throughout the darkest parts of the forest. They inhabit some of the lesser-known areas, browsing, and trying not to be detected by predators or humans.

Bouncing Baby
Amazingly, newborn okapi can stand within thirty minutes after birth. Even so, mom will hide the calf for the first two months of life. She will only visit to nurse a couple of times a day. The new calf does not defecate during the first few months of life, which may keep dangerous predators from detecting him. When the calf is a bit older, he will stay close to mom, following her through the forest.

Where in the World
The Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC) in Africa, is the only place where okapi can still be found in the wild. Because of habitat destruction, these vulnerable creatures are forced to venture outside of their home range to find food, proving to be unsafe.

Today, okapi are the symbol for conservation in the DRC. Even though they are protected, illegal poaching is still prevalent and okapi are considered threatened in the wild.

A Home for Okapi
The first okapi birth in an American zoo took place here at Brookfield Zoo in 1959. It was a historical event that took place with much fanfare. The anticipated birth was announced in newspapers across the country. When the calf finally arrived, one of the famous headlines read, “Okapi is a Poppy!” It was the beginning of many okapi births here at Brookfield Zoo and the first step in contributing to the total population. Today, we participate the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for okapi, an inter-zoo breeding program.


Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society