OKAPI – THE COOLEST ANIMAL YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
And It May Disappear Before You Even Know It
October 17, 2016 – Jacksonville, FL: On October 18, we at the Okapi Conservation Project will be celebrating the creation of the first-ever World Okapi Day. Our goal is to raise awareness worldwide of this unique and endangered animal. With the stripes of a zebra, body of a horse and head of a giraffe, the okapi was the last major mammal discovered by scientists in 1901 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa. Even over 100 years later, many people are still unaware this unique species even exists.
The okapi, or forest giraffe, is the closest living relative to the more recognizable giraffe, as its nickname implies. With their chocolate-brown, velvety fur, and contrasting white stripes limited to their haunches and legs, many who are unfamiliar with this unique creature mistakenly think it’s a relative of the zebra.
Though still relatively unknown outside the African continent, the okapi and its characteristic stripes are the symbol of biodiversity in the DRC. Similar to the United States with its bald eagle, the okapi is the cultural icon of the country, with a burgeoning list of products named after it; including gum, cigarettes, water and the nation’s primary radio station which acts as the main channel for the dissemination of information throughout the country.
Just like the bald eagle in the late 20th century, the okapi is currently at risk of extinction. Due to human disturbances including illegal gold mining and deforestation through slash-and-burn agriculture, okapi have lost 50% of their population in the last 15 years, leaving an estimated 15,000 animals left in the wild.
The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) works with a wildlife protection agency, Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) to protect the endemic wildlife and ecology of the forest in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Okapi Conservation Project also develops relationships with local communities by providing health clinics and clean sources of water, developing sustainable and profitable farming techniques and empowering women by providing opportunities for enterprise. Supporting communities and addressing their needs allows for discussion about conservation and includes the community in protecting the fauna and flora in the area.
To gain support and awareness of its work, OCP is working with zoos and conservation organizations around the world to celebrate the inaugural World Okapi Day on October 18. In the spirit of celebrating the day, OCP is asking everyone to help spread the word about the plight of okapi and how individuals can help by recycling your phones and supporting the Okapi Conservation Project. Zoos across the globe are hosting their own events for their guests to learn more about this mysterious animal.
Visit www.worldokapiday.org to learn more, and for ways you can help.
About the Okapi Conservation Project
Founded in 1987, the Okapi Conservation Project works in the heart of the African continent to preserve and protect the endangered okapi, its habitat and the culture of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Providing assistance to local communities addresses their most pressing needs, which in turn, lessens the human impact on the native wildlife and forest.