Earlier this week, the Zoological Society of London released photos of the Okapi, an animal that was last sighted in the wild 50 years ago, and had until now never been photographed in its natural environment. The rare photos were caught by trip-wire cameras set up in the Republic of Congo's, Virumga National Park, one of three areas these shy animals can be found.
The Okapi is a reclusive animal, whose existence was unknown until the beginning 20th century, when a British explorer sent a skin home to London. Even after that it has been sighted very rarely and only fleetingly in the wild. With no sightings in the last fifty years, zoologists had worried that the animal was extinct, especially in the forests of Congo. However in 2006, they spotted the tracks and droppings of these charismatic animals and were convinced there were still some left in the region.
While the pictures captured only three, scientists believe that there are about two hundred of them in the National Park and now hope to conduct more accurate surveys on the exact number before beginning conservation efforts. The one big threat to these beautiful creatures is poaching. Conservationists have observed that Okapi meat is being sold regularly at the market in the nearby town of Beni and are concerned that if it is continued, the creatures will be extinct from this park within a few years.
Okapi's are beautiful animals that look like a cross between a deer, zebra and giraffe. They have dark backs and distinguished Zebra-like stripes on their front and back legs. Scientists believe that these stripes help the babies follow their mothers in the dense rain forests that they inhabit. Their body shape resembles a giraffe's albeit with much shorter necks, but with the same long blue tongues that they use to strip leaves and buds from trees. In fact, their tongues are so long that they use them to wash their eyelids and clean their ears, both inside and out!
Their main and only predator in the wild, is the Leopard. Okapi's are not social animals and usually live alone or in mother-offspring pairs. They can live up to 25 years in captivity. It is estimated that there are about 25,000 left in the wild and about 150 in Zoos and Wildlife Reserves around the World. The video below shows one in a Wildlife Reserve in Congo, Africa.