Okapi Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Come learn about the okapi! Okapis are animals that live in rainforests and look very unique. This lesson will teach you about okapis, how they look, where they live, what they eat and other cool facts about them.

What Is an Okapi?

Imagine you're walking through a thick rainforest when suddenly you see an animal that has the legs of a zebra, the brown body of a horse and the tongue of a giraffe. Are your eyes playing tricks on you? No--you've just spotted an okapi!

Okapis (pronounced oh-COP-ees) are very shy animals that live in an African rainforest, and they have black and white striped legs and brown bodies. They are rarely seen by people because they're so cautious.

Okapis have striped legs and brown bodies.
Male Okapi with Horns

More About Okapis

While okapis look like they are related to zebras or horses, they are actually very closely related to giraffes, though they aren't nearly as tall! These animals typically stand 5 to 6.5 feet tall. But they can run up to 37 miles per hour, which is just a little faster than a giraffe.

Even though they aren't as tall as giraffes, okapis have the same big ears and a similar head shape. They also have a prehensile (pronounced pre-HEN-sul) tongue like giraffes. This means their long tongue can wrap around and grab food. If you had a tongue like that, you could completely wrap it around a popsicle and eat it before it melted! An okapi's tongue is so long that the animal can even use its tongue to clean its own ears!

Okapis have prehensile tongues.
Okapi Using its Prehensile Tongue

An interesting fact: Male okapis have horns on their heads. The females don't, so that's an easy way to tell a boy from a girl okapi.

Where Do Okapis Live?

Okapis live in the wild in a thick rainforest in Central Africa. Their striped legs and brown body help them blend in with the rainforest, making it harder for predators to find and eat them. Their thick fur is coated in oil, which means water rolls right off their backs and they stay dry. This is important, since it rains a lot in the rainforest. It's like having a built-in umbrella!

These animals generally live alone, and they mark their territory (to let other okapis know when a space is claimed) by leaving a smell behind. Okapis have special glands on their feet that leave a smelly, gummy substance wherever they walk.

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