Sunday, January 21, 2018

Okapi

The okapi is also known as the forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, is an even-toed ungulates uniquely endemic to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa and is a national and cultural symbol, and has been protected since 1933. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of zebras, it is genetically more closely related to the giraffe. A 2016 study found that the common ancestor of giraffe and okapi lived about 11.5 million years ago. Unlike giraffe where both sexes possess horns, in okapi only males bear. Morphological similarities shared between the giraffe and the okapi include a similar gait – both use a pacing gait, stepping simultaneously with the front and the hind leg on the same side of the body, unlike other ungulates that walk by moving alternate legs on either side of the body - and a long, black tongue useful in plucking buds and leaves and also for grooming.
Its coat is a chocolate to reddish brown, much in contrast with the white horizontal stripes and rings on the legs and white ankles. Male okapis have short, hair-covered protuberances called ossicones (horns), less than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length, which are absent in the females. The okapi is one of the oldest mammals left on Earth and is known to the western world only since the early 20th century. Shy and elusive as it is serene and gentle, with remarkable natural defenses against predation, the okapi is nearly impossible to observe in the wild.
Relative Size
The okapi stands about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall at the shoulder and has an average body length around 2.5 m (8.2 ft). Its weight ranges from 200 to 350 kg (440 to 770 lb). Females are larger than males and weigh, 495 to 770 pounds (225 to 350 kilograms) whereas the males, 440 to 660 pounds (200 to 300 kilograms).
Did You Know
           Okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe. Okapi's tongue is 18 inches long and it can reach both its eyes and ears and is prehensile, used for stripping the leaves and buds from stems of various plants. Okapi is a ruminant, just like cow and swallows and regurgitates its food for additional chewing several times.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Giraffidae
Genus
Okapia
Species
johnstoni
Other Names
English
Okapi, Forest Zebra
Lese Karo
O'api
Status
Endangered 
Year Published: 2015; Date Assessed: 2015-07-25; Assessor: Mallon, D., Kümpel, N., Quinn, A., Shurter, S., Lukas, J., Hart, J.A., Mapilanga, J., Beyers, R. & Maisels, F. In Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Réserve de Faune à Okapis; RFO) 43% of Okapi population have declined over the period 1995-2007. The RFO remains the best protected site and it is inferred that the rate of decline here equaled in other parts of the Okapi range. The species is confirmed to be Endangered under criterion A2abcd+4abcd.
Population
In 1999 the estimated population was over 10,000 and in 2013 the estimated population is between 35,000-50,000. The population number is in general regarded as ‘guesstimates’ as they depend on extrapolation of a limited number of patchily distributed, dung-based surveys. Current numbers are believed to be lower and declining, but there is no reliable estimate of current population size.
Habitat
The Okapi is found in the dense tropical rainforests of north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo generally at an altitude that can vary between 500 and 1,500 meters, although the majority of individuals are inhabit areas at roughly 800 meters above sea level. They are incredibly shy and elusive animals and rely heavily on the very thick foliage around them to protect them from being spotted. The Okapi can also be found in areas where there is a slow-moving fresh water source, but the range of the Okapi is very much limited by natural barriers, with unsuitable habitats on all four sides trapping these animals into the 63,000 square kilometer Ituri Rainforest. Around a fifth of the rainforest is today made up of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site.
Range
The Okapi is endemic to The Democratic Republic of Congo. The distribution extends across parts of central, northern and eastern Congo. North and east of the Congo River, Okapi range from Maiko Forest north to the Ituri Forest, then west through the Rubi, Tele and Ebola river basins, extending north towards the Ubangi River. Okapi have a much smaller range to the west and south of the Congo River, extending from the west bank of the Lomami River west to the upper Lomela and Tshuapa basins. In the fairly recent past, Okapi occurred occasionally in the adjoining Semliki forest of western Uganda.
Occurring Countries
Native: The Democratic Republic of Congo
Regionally extinct: Uganda
Biology
Okapis are primarily diurnal, but may be active for a few hours in darkness. They are essentially solitary, coming together only to breed. They have overlapping home ranges and typically occur at densities around 0.6 animals per square kilometre. Male home ranges average 13 km2 (5.0 sq mi), while female home ranges average 3–5 sq.km (1.2–1.9 sq.mi). Males migrate continuously, while females are sedentary. Males often mark territories and bushes with their urine. The male is protective of his territory, but allows females to pass through the domain to forage. Males visit female home ranges at breeding time.
Okapis are herbivores, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi. They are unique in the Ituri forest as they are the only known mammal that feeds solely on understory vegetation. The okapi has been known to feed on over 100 species of plants, some of which are known to be poisonous to humans and other animals. Fecal analysis shows that none of those 100 species dominates the diet of the okapi. Staple foods comprise shrubs and lianas. The main constituents of the diet are woody, dicotyledonous species; monocotyledonous plants are not eaten regularly.
Female okapis become sexually mature at about one-and-a-half years old, while males reach maturity after two years. Rut in males and estrus in females does not depend on the season. The gestational period is around 440 to 450 days long, following which usually a single calf is born, weighing 14–30 kg (31–66 lb). As in other ruminants, the infant can stand within 30 minutes of birth. The juveniles are kept in hiding, and nursing takes place infrequently. Calves are known not to defecate for the first month or two of life, which is hypothesized to help avoid predator detection in their most vulnerable phase of life.
Predators
Although Okapi inhabits mountain rainforest, it actually has surprisingly few common predators particularly in comparison to similar species. The main predator of the Okapi is the leopard. Unlike other predators which the Okapi's acute hearing would sense moving through the undergrowth, the Leopard's position above ground means that they are able to both survey the surrounding area for potential prey and are also able to ambush it from above. Other predators of the Okapi include the serval, golden cat and humans.
Threats
          Major threats include habitat loss due to logging and human settlement. Extensive hunting for bush meat and skin and illegal mining have also led to population declines The most prominent current threat to Okapi is the presence of illegal armed groups in and around key protected areas. These groups prevent effective conservation action, even surveys and monitoring in most sites, and engage in and facilitate elephant poaching, bushmeat hunting, illegal mining (gold, coltan and diamonds), illegal logging, charcoal production and agricultural encroachment. In June 2012, a gang of poachers attacked the headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, killing six guards and other staff as well as all 14 okapis at their breeding center.
Conservation Measures
The Okapi is protected under Congolese law and the species is a national symbol, appearing on the insignia of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and on Congolese banknotes. The Okapi Conservation Project, established in 1987, works towards the conservation of the okapi, as well as the growth of the indigenous Mbuti people. Many captive Okapi are held in international zoos. In November 2011, representatives of the North American and European captive populations, including the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the Okapi European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), met to discuss the role of the captive population in Okapi conservation and agreed to maintain a sustainable, cooperatively managed global ex situ Okapi population that contributes to a viable in situ population. In March 2013 a new IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group was established, co-hosted by ZSL, with the aim of coordinating research and conservation on both giraffid species and supporting implementation of the Okapi conservation strategy.
Interesting Video
Okapi Conservation Project – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70xVcFAJHC0
Conservation Website
References