Scientist was able to capture pictures of the mythical okapi (Okapia johnstoni) in the Virunga National Park in the DRC (former Zaire). This is apparently the first sighting in over half a century of this shy species outside its known distribution. To the general public the okapi appears as an implausible animal, to zoologists it is a wet dream.
Although the okapi show some resemble to the horse/zebra it is actually closely related to the giraffe. Its home range lies in one of Africa’s most prolonged armed conflict areas, the northeastern DRC with surrounding areas. A study of impacts of war on conservation paints a dark picture with increased killing and smuggling of animals (Kanyamibwa 1998). Hence, it is most gratifying to hear that the species is seemingly managing to survive.
One needs to be aware that the okapi is an elusive and perhaps naturally rare animal. This means that the low number of sightings does not imply that it is an endangered species. In fact most literature regard the okapi as quite numerous in the areas where it is found (eg. Kingdon 1997). However, it does also imply that this “half-giraffe” might be at risk of quickly become endangered if its habitats are not protected and managed well. Translocating it to parts of it former distribution range in Uganda could be a way of reducing this risk.
(The video clip is from the Okapi National Park, where most of the wild okapis are found).
Kanyamibwa S. (1998). Impact of war on conservation: Rwandan environment and wildlife in agony. Biodiversity and Conservation 7 (11): 1399-1406.
Kingdon J. (1997). The field guide to African mammals. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
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