A MOST CURIOUS ANIMAL, A CULTURAL SYMBOL, A SPECIES ON THE BRINK
The okapi — Okapia johnstoni; the “forest giraffe”; one of the oldest mammals left on Earth — 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 (not least of which, its extraordinary markings), the okapi is nearly impossible to observe in the wild. To the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which it is uniquely endemic, it is a national and cultural symbol, and has been protected since 1933.
It is also a species whose existence is under grave threat from the impact of human activities.The okapi is entirely dependent on the forest sanctuary for its survival, and deforestation, along with poaching and mining, have led to its precipitous and perilous decline. An Okapi Conservation Strategy Workshop (2013) found that the population had plummeted over 50% in just three generations (about 15 years). Based on the findings of the workshop, the okapi were officially classified ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species — up sharply from its original Red List classification of ‘Near Threatened’.
Okapi Conservation Project works with ICCN and communities throughout the Okapi Wildlife Reserve — a 13,700-sq-km swathe of the Ituri Forest in northeastern DRC — to ensure the protection of the okapi and many other species in this equatorial rainforest. Key to this are conservation initiatives that benefit the livelihoods and environment of the okapi’s human cohabitants. The OCP relies heavily on zoos around the globe to educate the international public about this unique, captivating creature and the importance of its rainforest habitat.