The Okapi or Okapia johnstoni is a mammal living in the Ituri Rainforest located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of central Africa. Although this fascinating creature has markings that certainly resemble those of zebras, it is evolutionarily more closely related to the giraffe. The similarities to giraffes do not end at genetics, however. The okapi has a body shape much like that of their taller friend. Also, they have a very long (1 foot), blue tongue, which it actually uses to clean its ears and eyes (not surprisingly, this is almost a singular occurrence in the animal kingdom). The tongue is also used to strip leaves of branches of low-lying trees, shrubs, and bushes.
The okapi is largely diurnal, coming out only at night, and then coming together in pairs only to mate. This was one of the difficulties in actually finding and officially identifying it as a real, new species.
For a long time, the okapi was a species known to cryptozoology — the study of animals not wildly recognized by science — as the African unicorn, rather than real zoology (Somebody is going to be angry at me for saying that, but too bad. Get undoctored photographs and some DNA evidence of bigfoot and I will believe you. Until then, you are little more than ghostbusters to me.). First clues as to its existence were announced to Europe by Henry Morton Stanley (“Dr. Livingston, I presume), who found some cloven-hoof tracks and heard tales of a jungle donkey from the Africans themselves. Later, a skull and some skin were given to Sir Harry Johnston at the beginning of the 20th century. Later, the species was formally recognized in 1912.
Although not endangered, the okapi are threatened due to poaching and deforestation. The war in the Congo is not doing any favors for the wildlife (okapi, gorillas, all living things suffer). Hopefully, they will survive to see peace.