© Julie Larsen-Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

The near threatened okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a very elusive, unusual looking animal that has stripes on their hindquarters and legs like a zebra, but the rest of the body is dark brown like a horse. This unusual coloration pattern acts as camouflage to protect the okapi in the forest. The okapi also has a long, dark tongue similar to a giraffe but has a short neck like that of a deer.

The greatest threats affecting the okapi are human-related and include habitat loss and over-hunting. Okapi meat is sold illegally in local markets, known as “bushmeat,” in African nations. The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, an AZA Conservation Partner, supports many in-situ conservation initiatives including increasing the size and quality of okapi protected areas and encouraging local people to engage in sustainable okapi hunting practices. Approximately 25,000 okapi remain in Central Africa and their populations are steadily declining.

The AZA Antelope and Giraffe Taxon Advisory Group and the Okapi Species Survival Plan ® Program manage over 80 okapi in 22 AZA-accredited zoos. Because in situ populations of okapi are elusive animals and little is known regarding their natural ecology and behavior, scientists from AZA zoos are conducting research to learn more about the ways to optimize okapi ex situ management and reproduction.

The AZA Conservation Endowment Fund, and one of its sub-funds, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, has provided over $16,000 of support to the White Oak Conservation Center for their creation of a genome resource bank and for their research on improving artificial insemination techniques for Okapi.