Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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

Females

  • 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

Male

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

Subadults

  • 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

Communication

Displays  

  • 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

Play

  • 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.

Locomotion

(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)

SDZWA Library Links