The okapi differs from its nearest extant relative, the giraffe, in habitat, size, proportion, coloration, vocalizations, and other distinguishable features.

The okapi is readily distinguishable from its nearest extant relative, the giraffe (giraffa camelopardalis).

Firstly, the two species are allopatric and occur in separate, non-overlapping geographical areas. The okapi occurs in the rainforests of central Africa and the giraffe inhabits sub-Saharan savanna and woodlands.

Physically, the body of the okapi is smaller than the giraffe, with the neck and leg proportions of the okapi more resembling those of bovid and cervid ruminants than those of giraffe. The okapi’s back is nearly level while the giraffe’s back slopes markedly toward the rear. Cervical vertebrae of the okapi are unelongated, unlike those of the giraffe, and number five sacral in contrast to the three or four of the giraffe. Okapi also only have three tarsal ankle bones compared to the four tarsal bones of the giraffe. Lastly, the okapi also has interdigital glands on all four feet, with the glands being slightly larger on the front feet, unlike giraffes.

Only male okapi possess ossicones; however, small rudimentary horns may be present in females, whereas both male and female giraffes have horns.

The okapi’s coloring also contrasts with that of the giraffe as the okapi possess individually variable, tempered white and creamy white horizontal stripes extending anteriorly from the posterior face of the hindlimbs and rump.

Okapi have few vocalizations, but vocalize more than giraffes.

Sources: (Bodmer & Rabb, 1992; Palkovacs, 2000; San Diego Zoo Global, 2017)
Image: Bryce Bradford


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