Friday, August 15, 2008


I'm learning as this blog unfolds that the words are finding me more than I'm finding them. This blog is responsible for my reconnecting with an old friend, more details of which can be found under comments at 'revenant'. And I am very surprised how often that word has come up in recent weeks--who'd have thunk it? Anyway, my old friend signed on as 'okapi' and yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea what an okapi is. It's like some kind of African gazelle, right? I kind of left that to dangle for awhile, but then the word came up in some crime fiction I was reading--I mean as some sort of metaphor, and I thought, when is an okapi used as a metaphor to describe something else, for pete's sake? So it is apparently now time to find out what an okapi truly is.

Okay, it really is a shame that I am not tech savvy enough to download a picture or two onto this blog, because, well, a fleet-footed gazelle this thing is not. Basically, it looks a bit like a zebra that has changed its mind somewhere in the process of transformation, because its black and white striping only runs up its legs, while the trunk of its body is all brown. It looks like it should be some distant cousin of the zebra, but in fact it is related to the giraffe, and its head bears this out. It also has a long, black prehensile tongue, which is apparently something shared in common with giraffes, who also use theirs to get a handle on leaves and twigs.

A couple more things about okapis. Their fur is oily and very velvety to the touch. Their ears rotate independently so that they can pick up sound both coming from behind and in front. They hide from humans, and this wise practice means that they were among the very last of the large mammals of Africa to be 'discovered', in the early 1900s, although of course native peoples knew of their existence all along.

Their home is the Ituri Rainforest which lies in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I thought this name sounded familiar, and sure enough I had heard about it some years ago, because it is also the home of the Mbuti pygmies. Which perhaps doesn't add much to the discussion but is still interesting.


  1. Wow, now I feel compelled to attempt an okapi-centered metaphor. Ummm… Her fainting couch, like a pregnant okapi, was both velvety and curvaceous. Well, I managed a simile anyway (sort of).

  2. Very nice, Jarod, and to be fair, when I looked back and found it, mine was really a simile too. From Marc Lecard's Vinnie's Head when his protagonist enters a nail salon: "The nail girls all looked up quick and startled when I walked in, like grazing okapi on the Nature Channel when the lion walks into the picture. Then they all went back to whatever they were doing."

    Only problem is that after my research, I'm not sure that Mr. Lecard has got his simile right. I think "browsing okapi" would probably be more accurate. So congratulations! You win on the simile front.

  3. Hi Seana, Thank you for blogging about one of my (obviously) favorite animals! I chose to call myself "okapi" because I admire the okapi's oh-so-cool markings and because I identify with its solitary, shy nature. I have not yet managed to get my ears to swivel, but I'm working on it! Interesting excerpt from Mr. Lecard, but you are right -- it seems a bit off. Not only about the grazing v. browsing bit, but I think that an okapi would be more likely to encounter a leopard in the dense rainforest than a lion, seeing as how okapis typically prefer to keep to the forest and lions roam the plains. Also, it is rare to find a group of okapi doing anything together (hence the reputation for being solitary). Perhaps Mr. Lecard meant to refer to the Thomson's gazelle instead. Lisa

  4. Thanks, Lisa! You have educated me and anyone else who happens to be reading this even further. And I'll bet you are right about Lecard's mistaking the okapi for a gazelle. Still, we mustn't be too hard on him, as without his description I might still be in the dark about this fascinating creature.