Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 87 – The Okapi

Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

“The joy of killing!  The joy of seeing killing done! – These are traits of the human race at large”
Mark Twain

The IUCN has produced an updated Red List of Threatened Species for 2013.  And on it, this rare and beautiful creature has been moved up a notch from Near Threatened to Endangered. Not just because of habitat loss and poaching, though both are huge threats, but, because mindless, heavily armed, ruthless gangs of rebels have been running wild in a country torn by civil strife for almost twenty years, taking copious amounts of bushmeat and skins.  At the beginning of November, 2013, the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo  were overwhelmed by the Congolese army, backed by the United Nations, and have now surrendered.  But, not before okapi numbers were greatly depleted and conservation efforts in the country brought to a virtual halt.

Okapi with newborn calf  Many may remember the notorious killings in 2012 at the Epulu Conservation and Research Center, where seven people were slaughtered by armed poachers in retaliation for the Center’s part in the hindering of their illegal poaching activities (this was apparently a warning to others).  All fourteen of the peaceful, captive ‘ambassador okapi’ (one of which was a young five-month-old calf), were killed too.  Not for their skins or body parts, the bodies were left on the ground.  They were killed because they were there, and because their existence was meaningful to the villagers and the Center.  And, the poachers did not stop there.  They continued their bloody rampage until incalculable damage was done to both the people and the vicinity.  Fortunately, in the case of Epulu, despite the deaths of men, women and animals, the Center’s activities have  continued as normal.  Now they have the good military at hand to protect them, as the threat of rebels is not yet entirely over.

When unrest and incidents such as these occur, it is easy to see why conservation efforts do not always work.  Those who are so dedicated and strive so hard to protect the wildlife, are left exposed to the same dangers, or thwarted in their mission.Okapi

Following the disarming of the rebels, as you would expect in any forest, habitat loss has now risen back to the top of the okapi’s list of threats.  These enigmatic treasures like plenty of cover and the usual culprits (mining, logging and settlement) have deprived them of this.  Local tribes also hunt them as bushmeat and sell their skins, and Wambutti pygmies use their skins as tribal headbands.

Okapi have very beautiful, striking, velvety coats of many colours.  Those colours include the black and white stripes on the hind quarters and back legs which resemble the zebra. But, in fact, they are far more closely related to giraffe than zebra, hence the nickname ‘forest giraffe’.  Their stunning, unique coats, or skins as they become, are highly prized by poachers.  The disruptive colouration aids camouflage when the sunlight filters through the trees, making them hard to see, but the poachers are persistent.  As with zebra, no two sets of the okapi’s stripes are the same and, like fingerprints, can be used for identification purposes.

OkapiOkapi have large black eyes with poor eyesight and large ears with keen hearing. Their tongues are long (up to eighteen inches in total), blue, and prehensile for stripping leaves from trees; and for personal grooming.

The okapi is diurnal, and solitary except for mother and calf pairings. The breeding season for these mammals is spring to early summer. After a gestation period of fourteen to fifteen months, a single calf will usually be born.  The newborn will weigh between thirty and sixty pounds.  Its weight will double within the first month of life.  Calves occasionally suckle from more than one female.  The calf will be weaned at six months of age. Females birth once every two years.

The retiring nature of the okapi has earned it yet another appellation, that of the African unicorn – rather like the elusive saola in Viet Nam, which is known as the Asian unicorn.

The Okapi is also the Congo’s National Symbol and features on all Congolese banknotes.

Natural Habitat
Closed, high canopy forests, primary and older secondary forests.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Central Africa) within the Ituri tropical rainforests.
What they eat
Understorey foliage (they are known to feed on over one hundred plant species). They also seek out and consume sulphurous, salty red clay for mineral requirements.
Habitat loss due to logging and human settlement, including illegal occupation of protected areas.  Mining and hunting/poaching for meat and skins. Civil War and the aftermath.
Status: Endangered
The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.
The okapi is not included in any CITES Appendices.
The Okapi is a fully protected species under Congolese law, though any laws have lacked enforcement during the unrest in the Congo.
The IUCN recommends strengthening protection of the protected areas as being the single most important means to ensure the long-term survival of Okapi. The Congolese agency responsible for protected area management, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), is currently both under-staffed and under-funded. The Epulu Conservation and Research Center is the headquarters of the ICCN.
Okapi are kept in various zoos around the world, where breeding programs have been highly successful.
It is believed the rate of decline of the species in the wild has been in excess of fifty percent over three generations.
Natural predators are few. The leopard is one of them.

Related Articles
Tragic losses in the heart of darkness
Poacher known as ‘Morgan’ behind devastating massacre at Okapi Wildlife Reserve
Okapi – the endangered forest giraffe
Okapi and Yellow-breasted bunting take a step closer to extinction 

Endangered Species Red List Updated

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 54 – The Grey-shanked Douc Langur

Grey-shanked douc langur

Image: Art G via Creative Commons

Mankind has done irreparable damage to these poor langurs.  Their numbers were reduced dramatically during the Vietnam War when the their habitat was heavily bombed and sprayed with defoliants like Agent Orange.  On top of that, soldiers used these harmless creatures for target practice (they sit still in the branches – they do not run away – they think they are hiding). Today, they are hunted for the pet trade, food and medicine. And, as if that were not enough, their habitat has been horribly decimated over recent years.

Even more recently, in 2012, two grey-shanked douc langurs were brutally tortured and killed, for fun, and a series of images of these disturbing and horrific actions were posted on the Facebook page of Vietnamese soldier, Nguyen Van Quang.  One was a pregnant female.  [1]  This is humanity at its absolute lowest.  And, the deed has gone virtually unpunished.  Vietnam should hold its head in shame.

These acts of killing are not isolated.  Shortly afterwards, a man identified as Bui Van Ngay was arrested for killing eighteen langurs in Vietnam’s Bu Gia Map National Park.

Only man is responsible for the decline of this species.  Their numbers have now plunged to less than seven hundred individuals.

Grey-shanked douc langurs have light grey coats with pale undersides.  They have black hands and black feet, and the lower legs are dark grey.  They have a rusty-red  ‘bib’ around the neck and a white throat with long white whiskers on the chin.  Their faces are pale orange. They weigh between eighteen and twenty-four pounds  (male to female) and their bodies and tails grow to roughly the same length of twenty-nine inches.

They are diurnal and arboreal.  They move by leaping and brachiating through the trees. They live in groups of four to fifteen individuals (these numbers were once much higher) where the males are the dominant members.  They communicate by touch, sound and visual signs.

The breeding season runs from August to December.  There is a gestation period of up to one hundred and ninety days, and births will occur between January and August.  One baby will be born weighing, at most, a mere seven hundred and twenty grammes.

Evergreen and semi-evergreen primary rainforests.
Central Highlands of Vietnam
What they eat
Primarily folivorous, although plant buds, fruits that haven’t ripened, seeds and flowers are also eaten.  They don’t drink water unless they are on the ground, otherwise they get all the water they need from the food that is consumed.
Man is the greatest predator of the species. Through logging and agricultural conversion man has all but destroyed the habitat of the grey-shanked douc langur.   He has callously and unremittingly hunted this little monkey for food and traditional medicine.   Upon seeing humans,  grey-shanked douc langurs are known to hide unmoving in the trees instead of  beating a hasty retreat.   This has made them an easy target for cold-blooded, grasping hunters.
Status:  Critically Endangered
The grey-shanked douc langur is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as critically endangered.  It is one of “The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates.”   This species is listed in CITES Appendix I, and listed on Appendix 1B of Decree 32 (2006) in Viet Nam.  The grey-shanked douc langurs live primarily in protected areas, but the law enforcers are neglectful, leaving the species vulnerable.  Currently, the population is estimated to be less than seven hundred individuals.   Global response to the douc’s dilemma has been overwhelming. From the World Wild Life Fund to the Frankfurt Zoological Society and over to Vietnam itself, much is now being done to save this species. Tragic as the event may have been, not only did the torture and killings of the grey-shanked douc langurs in Vietnam spark universal outrage, it also drew the everyday world’s attention to the plight of this endearing little primate. So now, there is much support all round.

“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it”
Mark Twain

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 2: The Tiger Quoll

Tiger Quoll Description
The power of the Tiger Quoll’s (Dasyurus maculatus) bite is second only to that of the Tasmanian Devil.  Nocturnal and solitary, they are noted for giving birth to young the size of a grain of rice. They are the largest carnivorous marsupial on the Australian mainland. They have cute little pink noses and are covered in white splodges. 
Rainforests and closed eucalyptus forests.
Australia to Tasmania
What do they eat?
Pretty much anything to hand (or should that be paw)  – insects, birds, small mammals, lizards, crayfish; they’re just not fussy. And, occasionally they scavenge for larger animals such as kangaroos and dingoes.
Man – logging practices that cause habitat fragmentation; persecution and road accidents.
Status: Endangered 
Fast declining in numbers, they are now considered ‘near threatened’.

Tiger Quolls are related to the now extinct Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger). The last known thylacine died in Hobart Zoo on 7th September, 1936

“Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to” – Mark Twain