OKAPI AND GIRAFFE – Giraffidae

OKAPI AND GIRAFFE

OKAPI AND GIRAFFE FACTS

Giraffes stand up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) to the top of the head and weigh 460 to 4,250 pounds (210 to 1,930 kilograms). When compared to the long neck (up to 8 feet, or 2.4 meters), the body is short. Legs are long and end in hooves the size of dinner plates. Their tails grow up to 39 inches (1 meter) and have a tassel at the end. Males are usually larger than females.

Eyes are large, and the long tongue (19 inches [45 centimeters]) is black. Both sexes have short horns of about 5 inches (13.5 centimeters) in length, though males’ are thicker. Males also have a middle horn and four or more small bumps.

The okapi (oh-KOP-ee) never weighs more than 550 pounds (250 kilograms), and its head is horse-like in shape. Its neck is not as long as the giraffe’s. Where the giraffe’s coat is various shades of brown with patterns of cream-colored hair, the okapi’s coat is dark brown with white stripes on the upper legs, white “socks” on the ankle, and dark rings at the leg joints. Both species walk with their weight supported alternately on their left and right legs, like camels. They use their necks to maintain balance.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Giraffids (giraffes and okapis) are found only in sub-Saharan Africa.

OKAPI AND GIRAFFE HABITAT

Giraffes live in savannas (tropical or subtropical community characterized by small trees and shrubs among herbs and grasses). Okapis live in tropical lowland forests.

OKAPI AND GIRAFFE DIET

Giraffes are browsers (eaters of shrubs, trees, and herbs) that eat mostly deciduous foliage in the rains and evergreen species during other seasons. They also eat fruit and grass now and then, and will drink water if available, but most of it comes through the plants they eat. Okapis eat buds, leaves, and branches as well as clay high in sulfur (to supplement their mineral intake).

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Giraffes are social whereas okapis keep to themselves. The home ranges of giraffes are large, while those of the okapi are small. The males of both species will fight other males to establish dominance, usually using their horns by swinging their long necks and butting into each other.

Giraffes are polygynous (puh-LIH-juh-nus; one male to several female mates), as okapi are believed to be. Pregnancy lasts fifteen months for the giraffe and results in the birth of a single calf. Calves nurse (drink mother’s milk) for a year and supplement their diet with browse beginning at the age of one month. Females stay with the herd while males leave around the age of three years. Life expectancy is twenty to twenty-five years.

After fourteen to fifteen months of pregnancy, a single okapi calf is born deep in the forest, where it will remain hidden for weeks. It will spend up to 80 percent of its first two months in hiding. Calves nurse until the age of six months and live over thirty years in captivity.

GIRAFFES, OKAPIS, AND PEOPLE

Giraffes are poached (illegally hunted) for their hair, which is made into thread, bracelets, fly whisks, as well as for their meat and hide. Okapi breed successfully in zoos, though we know very little about their behavior in the wild.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Neither species is threatened.