The Endangered Okapi. By Eli Coakley. What is it?.
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By Eli Coakley
The okapi is a rare and shy animal living in the high rain forests of Northern Zaire. They are the only living relative of the giraffe. In appearance they look like a horse, generally 6 ft. in height, 400-500 lbs., with long necks and large, flexible ears. In color they are brown, with white stripes across their front and back legs. Horns like a giraffe protrude from their heads, and they move similar to one. One of the funnier features in a long, black tongue for eating berries and leaves from high up. They also eat grass, certain mushrooms and things like clay and bat guano for minerals. They are very shy and are rarely seen.
The okapi has always been an animal in few numbers. The environment would not change much if they disappeared, but they do a few things. Like most horse-like animals their feces are used as a fertilizer. They can also feed large predators. Other than this they are not much of an influence.
Since their discovery, okapis have been sought after for zoo exhibits across the globe. Their odd appearance makes them a very popular attraction. Unfortunately rigorous capture and transportation methods often kill them before they can get to their destination. However, transport by plane has lowered that mortality rate. A lot of their habitat has also been destroyed for housing, farming, and other needs, and many accidentally get caught in animal traps meant for smaller creatures. They are also the target of poachers, who capture them to sell on the black market. Certain diseases are known for killing them, like diarrhea, and they suffer from many food borne illnesses.
The okapi, after serious hunting, became a protested species in Zaire, where they live. Those who hunt them get a large fine and even jail time. People are also trying to conserve the forests in which they live.
Many zoos have and raise okapis, but the lack of information known about them makes it hard to care for. Many countries also captive breed them to re-release into the environment. These establishments include special okapi wildlife reserves, built in the late 1990’s.
The okapi is one of the few remaining mysteries of our time. To let it die off and fade into extinction would be horrible. It is such a strange, rare animal, one I would like to show my kids in the future. And who knows what secrets it can hold! Scientists have considerable genetic interest in it, because they believe it has anomalies in it’s genes. And it’s the only relative of the giraffe, even though its appearance is close to that of a zebra.