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Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Okapi Okapia johnstoni

History of Conservation Efforts

  • Okapi has become the flagship species for the conservation of the lturi ecosystem in the Congo Basin.
  • In Uganda, Okapi formerly occurred in the Semliki Forest, but is not known to survive there (IUCN Redlist 2008).
  • 1925: Virunga National Park established; Africa's first national park.
    • A 2006 survey by local trackers and by World Wildlife Fund and its Congolese governmental partner ICCN (the Congo Institute for Nature Conservation), and the Gilman Conservation International found okapi signs in Virunga National Park in Eastern Congo after no sightings there since the 1950's.
    • In 2008 camera trap images of okapi obtained for first time; cameras set up in Virunga by Zoological Society of London and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN).
  • 1933: Okapi protection begins officially in Congo/Zaire.
  • 1952: A managed care breeding centre for okapi was first established at Epulu in the Ituri Forest, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC)
  • 1970: Maiko National Park established in DRC; it is not a World Heritage Site, but may have the most biodiversity of all the Congo's parks.
  • 1987: Okapi Conservation Project begun by Gilman International Conservation to help protect native habitat in Ituri Forest of DRC.
  • 1992: The Okapi Wildlife Reserve established
    • Occupies 13,700 square kilometers (5,290 square miles) in DRC
    • Is a Pleistocene refuge of exceptional species richness with a greater variety of mammals than any park in Africa:
    • 15% of species are endemic which is one of the highest rates in the world
    • Until recently preserved only by its inaccessibility
    • It has the highest known density of okapis known anywhere at approximately 2.5 animals per square kilometer (1 per square mile)
  • 1996: Okapi Wildlife Reserve designated as a United Nation World Heritage Site
    • Within the reserve, some 5,000 okapi are protected
    • This reserve encompasses the cultural center for two tribes of forest pygmy people - the Mubuti and Efe; okapi are not a significant part of their traditional diet
    • Strengthening protection of this reserve and Maiko National Park is the single most important means to ensure long-term survival of Okapi (IUCN 2008)
  • 1998: Okapi Wildlife Reserve placed on list of World Heritage in Danger because of devastation by civil war, invasion by miners and militants and destruction of wildlife by hunting for bushmeat and ivory.
  • 2008: Report for World Heritage in Danger List: populations of the endemic okapi in Okapi Wildlife Reserve have decreased by 43 %, with a loss of an estimated 2,000 animals (http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/drc___okapi___dec_32_com_7a.pdf )
  • 2009: Population estimates are quite imprecise but may be between 10,000 and 35,000 individuals.
  • 2016: First global conservation strategy to save okapi

Population Status

  • Total population estimates still uncertain (Krumpel et al. 2015)
    • Few reliable estimates (Mallon et al. 2015)
      • Difficult in a country affected by political unrest
        • Conservationists risk being harmed while doing scientific work
    • "Guess-timates" of over 10,000 (East 1999) and 35,000-50,000 (Hart 2013)
      • Thought to be lower
  • Undergoing severe population declines (Mallon et al. 2015)
    • Rate of decline is estimated to have exceeded 50% over three generations (24 years)
    • Declines expected to continue
      • Threats intensifying
        • Prized in bushmeat trade
        • Habitat loss due to logging and human settlement
      • Lack of effective conservation action

Conservation Status

IUCN Status

  • Endangered (2015 assessment) (Mallon et al. 2015)
    • 2013: Endangered
    • 2008: Near Threatened
    • 1996: Lower risk/near threatened

CITES Status

  • Not listed (as of Feb 2019) (UNEP 2019)

Endangered Species Act

  • Not listed (as of 2017)

Other

  • Fully protected species under Congolese law
  • Lives within protected areas, though illegal poaching occurs
    • Larger populations
      • Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Réserve de Faune à Okapis; or RFO)
      • Maiko National Park
    • Small populations in other protected areas
  •  

Threats to Survival

(Mallon et al. 2015)

  • Bushmeat trade—for meat and skins
    • Also caught by accident in some areas
  • Deforestation, logging
  • Human population growth and settlement
    • Includes illegal occupation of protected areas
  • Armed conflict, war, civil unrest, displaced human populations (Hart and Mwinyihali 2001)
  • Presence of illegal armed groups in and around key protected areas
    • Prevent scientific work, including census surveys and monitoring
    • In 2012, attack on Réserve de Faune à Okapis (RFO) headquarters
      • 7 people and all 14 okapi in managed care killed

Losing a Unique Animal

Okapi mother and calf with forest plants

Due to habitat loss and poaching, okapis are half as numerous as they were just a few decades ago.

The okapi is an endangered species–but like their cousins, the giraffes–have received relatively little conservation attention. Their future depends on the protection of their forest habitat.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Gijzen & Smet (1974)
Hart and Mwinyihali (2001)
IUCN Redlist (2008)

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