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Okapia johnstoni

Perhaps the most extraordinary fact about the okapi or forest giraffe (Okapia johnstoni) is that it was not known to science until 1901. Its taxonomic name, Okapia johnstoni, honors both its native Central African name, and that of the man who first ‘discovered’ it, Sir Harry Johnston, the British explorer, naturalist and colonial administrator. The native pygmies of Central Africa had known of this animal’s existence for generations, thinking it was a type of horse, which was how they described it to Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’ fame). In fact, the okapi is a forest-living relative of the giraffe. Although closely resembling a horse, the okapi has a relatively long neck although not as long as its giraffe cousins. The forehead, neck and body are brown, with light tan or grey on the animal’s cheeks, throat and chest. Okapi hair is short, slightly oily to the touch and has a delicate scent. The hind limbs and upper forelegs have cross-stripes resembling those of a zebra whilst the lower limbs have white ‘socks’ with brown lines running up the front to the knees, where there is a brown band circling each leg. Males have short hair-covered, rearward-facing horns and both sexes have large mobile ears. Females are slightly taller than males.

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