[cryptozoology: krip-toe-zoo-ah-luh-gee, the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproved, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.]
OK, I’m cheating a little on my definition because the scientific community has known about the Okapi [oh-cop-ee] for over a hundred years now, but they were in this group until 1900!
European explorers in Africa began hearing tales of an unknown creature deep in the jungle. In 1861, a book by Phillip Gosse talked about a mysterious horned animal the locals had told him about. Soon people began to imagine that there was an “African Unicorn.” Then in 1887, Sir Henry Stanley, of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume!” fame, wrote a book called In Darkest Africa. He mentioned tales of a strange, donkey-like creature in the rainforest.
Finally, in 1900, Sir Harry Johnston, who was the British governor of Uganda, decided to find out about this animal. He talked to Stanley about where it was known to live, and then he helped to rescue some pygmy men who were being stolen away to show at the Paris World’s Fair. In return for his help, the men answered his questions about the animal, told him they called it the “O’api” and got him some small pieces of hide with stripes on them.
To Johnston’s surprise, when the men showed him Okapi tracks, the hooves were split like a cow’s. He even wondered if they were deceiving him! Johnston had to abandon the search when everyone came down with malaria, so he asked some Belgian soldiers to send him specimens ASAP and headed back to his base. When two skulls and a skin arrived (along with a description of it’s cloven hooves), they discovered that the Okapi was much more like a giraffe than a horse. The Okapi was now officially known to science.
The Okapi is still very hard for us to study in their natural habitat. I found some articles rejoicing that they finally captured photos of wild Okapis in Virunga National Park in the highlands of the Congo way back in 2006. They are especially happy because we were worried the Okapi had been wiped out by fighting in that area.If you see an Okapi at the zoo, you would be puzzled by how hard it is to study such a large, colorful animal. The Okapi of today stands almost 6ft [1.8m] at the shoulder, grows to about 7ft [2.1m] long and can weigh 550lb [250kg]. They have dark, reddish-brown coats up front (which God made nice and oily to keep out the rain) and stripy hind quarters with white socks (which are actually excellent jungle camo). Daddy Okapis have small horns much like a giraffe, but the Okapi’s flexible neck is much shorter than a giraffe’s so it won’t get tangled in all the branches of its home.
It is the habits and home area of the Okapi that make them so hard to find. They live all alone except to mate and raise their young. Their home is the thick, shady jungle above 500m [1,640ft] in the volcanic highlands of the Congo. To keep from getting all tangled up, Okapis search for food along well-worn pathways that Okapis have been using for a long time. Except for a few coughing sounds or the whistling cry of a hungry baby Okapi, they are very quiet animals. The way they let each other know the boundary of their territory is with a tar-like scented stuff that oozes out of their hooves. They also use that other popular scent marker you already know from watching dogs and cats: urine.
A daddy Okapi will allow ladies through to find food in his territory, but not any other males! Okapis love their solitude so much that mother Okapis don’t even spend much time with their babies. They will leave them in a ‘nest,’ like a deer does, and only come around to nurse the little one occasionally. After about 6 to 9 months, young Okapis go off on their own.
One of the coolest thing about them is their dark blue tongues that they use to grab leaves and twigs, and even to clean their eyes and ears out! Okapis also have large sensitive ears that help them keep away from their one predator, the leopard. All these things make the Okapi one of the hardest land animals to study wild. It’s a good thing they do well in zoos!For more on the Okapi, have a look at these sites:
ZooBorns: Okapi with some cute pictures
Living Fossils a Creationist page (it seems we knew about Okapis first in the fossil record)
Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.
He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.
The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Psalm 147:7-11