The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is the closest living relative of the giraffe. Native to the rain forests around the Congo River in the north east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was known only to the local people until 1901; this obscurity led the Society for Cryptozoology to adopt it as an emblem.
Okapis have dark bodies, with striking horizontal white stripes on the back legs. The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except that okapis have much shorter necks. Both species have long, flexible, blue tongues that they use to strip leaves and buds from trees. The okapi's tongue is long enough for it to wash its eyelids. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns.
Okapis are 7-8 ft long, and 5-6 ft high at the shoulder. Their weight ranges from 465-550 lbs.
Okapis are largely nocturnal and essentially solitary, coming together only to breed. Only one infant is born at a time, weighing around 35 lbs, after a gestation period of from 421 to 457 days. The young are nursed for up to ten months, and reach maturity at between four and five years of age.
Okapis are not classified as endangered, but they are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching. Conservation work in the Congo includes the continuing study of okapi behavior, and has led to the creation in 1992 of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. The Congalese civil war threatened both the wildlife and the conservation workers in the Reserve.
The species name (johnstoni) refers to the explorer Sir Harry Johnston, who organized the expedition into the Ituri Forest that first acquired an okapi specimen for science.