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Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Okapi Okapia johnstoni

Activity Cycle

  • Active during the day and at night; previously thought to be nocturnal
  • Feeding peaks at mid-morn and late afternoon.
  • 30-50% of the day spent resting
  • Some movement during first few hours of darkness (most nocturnal movement on moon-lit nights).
  • Breeding females have the most stable home ranges, averaging 3-5.5 km.
  • Adult males with undefined, wide-ranging home ranges move more often and greater distances (averaging 8-12 km)

Home Range


  • 3-5 km (1.9-3.1 mi)
  • Move up to 2.5 km (1.6 mi) in a day
  • Most stable
  • Shared mainly with other females and young


  • Largest home range: > 10 km (> 6.2 mi)
  • 24-hr movement up to 4 km (> 2.5 mi)


  • 2-3 km (1.2-1.9 mi)
  • More restricted movement
  • Tendency to shift

Social Groups

  • Remain solitary much of the time.
  • 10% of total time is spent with other animals.
  • Social grooming common in managed care.
  • 2 adults, 1 juvenile, and 1 young may inhabit the same home range.
    • Groups of more than 3 have never been recorded other than in managed care.
    • Calves remain within mother's home range during first 2-6 months after birth.
  • Okapi generally avoid individuals in adjacent home ranges
  • Males and females spend very little time together



  • Dominance displays for both okapi and giraffe involve nose pointing away from the body's midline, which increases the visual impact of neck length. (Simmons and Scheepers 1996)

Vocalizations (Bodmer & Rabb 1992)

  • Few;  but vocalize more than giraffe.
  • Consists of three types of vocal signals: the chuff, moan, and bleat.
  • Chuffs are contact calls for all ages and both sexes.
  • Infants use bleat vocalization for response from mother.
  • Bleats emitted only by young animals < 7 months in stressful situations.
  • Soft moaning sound by males during courtship.
  • Whistles and bellows in acute distress situations.
  • Vocalizations have infrasonic frequency components.

Olfactory signals

  • Secretes from glands of feet, leaving scent on low-lying herbage.
  • Territory marked by urine or dung.
  • Prior to mating, males and females sample urine to test for hormones (flehmen).

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

  • Generally tranquil and non-aggressive
  • Males competing for females engage in ritualized neck fighting, head butting, and charging. (Prothero 2002)
  • Aggressive behaviors include kicking, head-throwing, and slaps using the side or top of head as a blow to flank or rump.
  • Kicking is often symbolic without contact.
  • Dominant animals have an erect head and neck posture while subordinates may have head and neck on the ground.

Territorial Behavior

  • Males in managed care shown to mark objects (bushes, trees) with urine, while crossing legs in a dance-like movement.
    • Marking occurs most often during courtship.
  • Females mark using common defecation sites.
  • Mark territory by rubbing necks on trees

Other Behaviors


  • Includes gambols and capers, the pooky (head low and forward, rapid tail wags) and lie and rise (lie on ground, may roll on side, then stand up) (Bodmer & Rabb 1985)
  • Both sexes and all age classes engage in play behavior.
  • Infants play more frequently than adults.


(Lindsey et al 1999) (Dagg 1960)

  • Pacing gait at about 16 kilometers/hour (10 mph) - foreleg and hindleg move forward together, followed by legs on other side
  • Gallop gait attains speeds of about 56.3 kph (35 mph) with same left side-right side pattern.
  • Like the giraffe, must splay the legs to reach the ground when drinking

Interspecies Interactions

(Spinage 1968) (Bodmer & Rabb 1992)

  • Leopards represent significant cause of death for adult okapi.
  • Serval cat and golden cats prey on young okapi.
  • African rainforest natives use okapi skins for decorative belts.

Looking Large-r

an okapi stretching its head high

Male okapis stretch their necks as a way of competing for dominance. This behavior is most common during breeding.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Bodmer & Gubista (1988)
Dagg (1960)
Hart (1992)
Hart & Hart (1988)
Lindsey et al. (1999)

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