The West Found this Animal in 1901. Now It's Nearly Extinct
A nudge above the equator in one of the most biodiverse places in Africa lives an almost-mythical mammal that few people have ever seen.
The striped okapi is often described as half-zebra, half-giraffe, as if it were a hybrid creature from a Greek legend. So rare is the okapi, that it was unknown to the western world until the turn of the 20th century.
While the okapi is virtually unheard of in the West, its image pervades life in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- the only country in the world where it is found living in the wild -- gracing cigarette packets, plastic water bottles, and even the back of rumpled Congolese Francs. The okapi is to the Congo what the giant panda is to China or the kangaroo to Australia.
But decades of misrule under a succession of dictators has seen much of the Congo's natural resources spin out of the government's control, and okapi numbers fall by 50% since 1995.
Today, only 10,000 remain.
Three decades ago, an American scientist made it his life mission to protect this rare mammal by co-managing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in eastern Congo. The reserve is roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, in the United States, but that's where the similarities end.