The Okapi

About the Okapi
The okapi also known as the forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, is an artiodactyl mammal native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of zebras, it is most closely related to the giraffe. The okapi and the giraffe are the only living members of the family Giraffidae. 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). It has a long neck, and large, flexible ears. 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, horn-like protuberances on their heads called ossicones, less than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length. Females possess hair whorls, and ossicones are absent.

Female okapis become sexually mature at about one-and-a-half years old, while males reach maturity after two years. Rut in males and estrous in females does not depend on the season. In captivity, estrous cycles recur every 15 days. The male and the female begin courtship by circling, smelling and licking each other. The male shows his dominance by extending his neck, tossing his head, and protruding one leg forward. This is followed by mounting and copulation.

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). The udder of the pregnant female starts swelling two months before parturition, and vulval discharges may occur. Parturition takes 3–4 hours, and the female stands throughout this period, though she may rest during brief intervals. The mother consumes the afterbirth and extensively grooms the infant. Her milk is very rich in proteins and low in fat.

As in other ruminants, the infant can stand within 30 minutes of birth. Although generally similar to adults, newborn calves have false eyelashes, a long dorsal mane, and long white hairs in the stripes. These features gradually disappear and give way to the general appearance within a year. 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. The growth rate of calves is appreciably high in the first few months of birth, after which it gradually declines. Juveniles start taking solid food from three months, and weaning takes place at six months. Horn development in males takes one year after birth. The okapi's typical lifespan is 20 to 30 years.