Okapia johnstoni

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CETARTIODACTYLA GIRAFFIDAE

Scientific Name: Okapia johnstoni
Species Authority: (P.L. Sclater, 1901)
Common Name/s:
English Okapi
Synonym/s:
Equus johnstoni P.L. Sclater, 1901

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2abcd+4abcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2013-08-02
Assessor/s: Mallon, D., Kümpel, N., Quinn, A., Shurter, S., Lukas, J., Hart, J. & Mapilanga, J.
Reviewer/s: Hoffmann, M.
Justification:

Okapi have been undergoing a decline since at least 1995 that is ongoing and projected to continue, in the face of severe, intensifying threats and lack of effective conservation action. The rate of decline is estimated to have exceeded 50% over three generations (24 years), between 1995 and 2013 and suspected to continue for the next few years given sustained pressures in its range. The estimate is based on figures from surveys in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Réserve de Faune à Okapis; RFO) showing a 43% decline 1995-2007 and a further 47% decline 2008-2012, in addition to reported declines or extirpations in other parts of the range and loss and degradation of habitat that is ongoing since 1980. This suggests the species also exceeds the 50% threshold for Endangered based on an estimated decline three generations into the past. The RFO has until recently been the best protected site and it is inferred that the rate of decline here is at least equalled in other parts of the range. The change in category between 2008 (Near Threatened) and present is non-genuine as the new information suggests that the current categorization of Endangered also should have applied in 2008.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Okapi distribution extends across parts of central, northern and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). North and east of the Congo River, Okapi range from Maiko Forest north to the Ituri Forest, then west through the Rubi, Tele and Ebola river basins, extending north towards the Ubangi River. Okapi have a much smaller range to the west and south of the Congo River, extending from the west bank of the Lomami River west to the upper Lomela and Tshuapa basins (Hart 2013). In the fairly recent past, Okapi occurred occasionally in the adjoining Semliki forest of western Uganda (Kingdon 1979).

The extent of occurrence (EOO) is 383,190 km2, but this includes unsuitable habitat such as degraded forest, swamp forest and urban areas. Excluding all these gives in an area of 244,405 km2 for the suitable or hypothesised range (Quinn et al. 2013). The area of occupancy (AOO) is 14,112 km2, based on a grid of 5.6 x 5.6 km, the size used by most reported surveys and 450 (3.5%) of 12,764 grid squares with confirmed presence Quinn et al. (2013). The AOO figure is, however, considered likely to be a substantial underestimate; surveys have been conducted in only 1,994 out of 12,764 grid squares so far.

Recorded presence is concentrated in and around protected areas, mainly reflecting survey effort. The remoteness and inaccessibility of much Okapi habitat make field work logistically difficult, and insecurity in DRC over the past two decades has further restricted survey activity. As a consequence, extensive parts of potential Okapi range are poorly studied. Furthermore, Okapi are secretive and their occurrence can easily go undetected, especially at low densities.

The known strongholds of the Okapi are the Ituri and Maiko Forests, the forests of the upper Lindi, Maiko and Tshopo basins and the Rubi-Tele region in Bas Uele (Hart 2013). There are confirmed recent (2013) records of Okapi in the Abumonbanzi  Reserve in Gbadolite district of North Ubangi at the north-west end of the distribution.

Since 1980, expansion of human settlement, deforestation and forest degradation have eliminated important portions of Okapi range, in particular in the southern and eastern Ituri Forest where the species was at one time abundant (Hart 2013).

 

Countries:
Native:
Congo, The Democratic Republic of the
Regionally extinct:
Uganda
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: East (1999) estimated that the total population may be over 10,000 and Hart (2013) estimated 35,000-50,000. Current numbers are believed to be much lower and declining, but there is no reliable estimate of current population size. The most robust recent population estimates were made in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Réserve de   Faune à Okapis; RFO) in 1993-1995 and repeated in 2005-2007 using the same Distance sampling methodology (Hart et al. 2008). These surveys produced estimates of 4,428 (95% CI 2,947-6,653) and 2,507 (1,622-3,871) in the two survey periods, respectively, a 43% decrease.

A second set of figures for RFO is available from Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM) patrol data (RFO/ICCN unpubl. data). These showed a 47% decrease in Okapi sign encounter rates between 2008 and 2012, and over 60% decline in direct observations. The methodology used does not allow confidence intervals to be calculated, but the patrol routes covered extensive distances ranging from 10,125 to 25,467 km annually.

In the Twabinga-Mundo region, anecdotal evidence suggests that Okapi are targeted for their skins and meat, and have undergone a drastic decline in numbers over the past two decades with local people reporting that Okapi is the most prized bushmeat available (Nixon 2010). Okapi had been present south of the town of Aketi and near the town of Buta but no signs were found on recent field surveys and locals said they had recently been hunted out by Bangalema nomadic hunters (Hicks 2010).

RFO was until recently the most effectively protected Okapi site with resident rangers and an active conservation programme and the overall rate of decline here is inferred to have been equalled or exceeded elsewhere.

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Okapi are limited to closed, high canopy forests between about 500 m and 1,500 m in elevation and they occur in a wide range of primary and older secondary forest types. They do not extend into gallery forests or the forest-savanna ecotone and do not persist in disturbed habitats surrounding larger settlements. Okapi will use seasonally inundated areas when the substrate is still wet, but they do not occur in truly inundated sites or extensive swamp forest. Tree fall gaps are selected as foraging sites for Okapi during the early stages of regeneration (Hart 2013). Okapi are unique in being the only species of forest ungulate to depend on understorey foliage and they are known to feed on over 100 plant species. They are mainly diurnal but have also been recorded feeding at night (Nixon and Lusenge 2008). Okapi have defined but non-exclusive home ranges, averaging 3-5 km2 for adult females and up to 13 km2 for adult males. Okapi are mainly solitary (Hart 2013). Generation length is broadly estimated at around eight years, based on calculations made for the global captive population (S. Hofman and K. Leus 2013, unpubl. data).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Okapi can coexist with small-scale, low-level human occupation of the forest, but disappear in areas of active settlement or disturbance, and the major threat to this species is habitat loss due to logging and human settlement including illegal occupation of protected areas (Hart 2013, Quinn et al. 2013).

According to Hart (2013) approximately one-third of the Okapi’s known distribution is likely to be at risk by major incursions during the first quarter of this century. Areas at high risk include the south-eastern Ituri Forest, the Kisangani area, Rubi-Tele, and the western and eastern limits of the species' range in the Ebola River basin and Virunga-Hoyo region respectively.

Hunting for meat and skins is also a threat and Okapi decline rapidly in areas where there is persistent use of snares. In some areas, Okapi are targeted for bushmeat whereas in others they are taken only incidentally (Hart 2013, Quinn et al. 2013).

The most prominent current threat to Okapi is the presence of illegal armed groups in and around key protected areas. These groups prevent effective conservation action, even surveys and monitoring in most sites, and engage in and facilitate elephant poaching, bushmeat hunting, illegal mining (gold, coltan and diamonds), illegal logging, charcoal production and agricultural encroachment. In a notorious incident in June 2012, armed rebels attacked the RFO HQ and killed seven people and all 14 captive Okapi.

 

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Okapi is not included in the CITES Appendices. The Okapi is a fully protected species under Congolese law and the species is a national symbol, appearing on the insignia of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and on Congolese banknotes.

The RFO (14,000 km2) and Maiko National Park (10,800 km2) support significant populations, but numbers in both sites have declined owing to the threats listed above. Strengthening protection of these two protected areas is the single most important means to ensure long-term survival of Okapi (East 1999, Hart 2013). A small population of Okapi still occurs in the Watalinga Forest (1,100 km2 ) in the northern sector of Virunga National Park, but currently receives no protection due to the presence of armed groups. They have also been recorded in Mt Hoyo Reserve (200 km2). Okapi occur in Rubi-Tele Hunting Reserve (ca. 9,000 km2) though its precise legal status is unclear, and in Abumombanzi Reserve. A proposed national park within the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba landscape covering 9,500 km2 is undergoing the process of official gazettement (Quinn et al. 2013). A number of community reserves are located around Maiko National Park.

Many captive Okapi are held in international collections. In November 2011, representatives of the North American and European captive populations, including the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the Okapi European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), met to discuss the role of the captive population in Okapi conservation and agreed to maintain a sustainable, cooperatively managed global ex situ Okapi population that contributes to a viable in situ population (Petric 2012). The zoo community is a major supporter of Okapi conservation work, in 2010 donating USD 225,000 to the Okapi Conservation Project, 33% of its budget (Gilman International Conservation 2010).

The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is the government agency responsible for protected area management but is under-staffed and under-funded. The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 and works within the RFO to protect Okapi and their habitat, as well as the culture of the indigenous Mbuti pygmies. Project activities include capacity building, agroforestry and community support (Gilman International Conservation, 2010). Several international NGOs also work or have recently conducted Okapi-related work in DRC, including Fauna & Flora International, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Lukuru Foundation, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The first-ever species-wide Okapi conservation strategy is currently being finalized following its development at a workshop held in DRC in May 2013 that was organised by ZSL in partnership with ICCN (Quinn et al. 2013). In March 2013 a new IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group was established, with the aim of coordinating research and conservation on both giraffid species and supporting implementation of the Okapi conservation strategy.

 

Bibliography [top]

East, R. 1999. African Antelope Database 1999. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Gilman International Conservation. 2010. Annual Report. Gilman Intenational Conservation. Available at http://www.theokapi.org.

Hart, J.A. 2013. Okapia johnstoni. In: J.S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa. Volume 6: Pigs, Deer, Giraffe, Bovids and Hippos, pp. 110-115. Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK.

Hart, J., Beyers, R., Grossmann, F., Carbo, M., Dino, S. and Kahindo, F. 2008. La Réserve de Faune à Okapis. La distribution et fréquence de la grande faune et des activités humaines. Avec une évaluation de l'impact de 10 ans de conflit: 1996 - 2006. Wildlife Conservation Society. Inventory Monitoring Unit, Technical report no. 9, New York, USA.

Hicks, T.C. 2010. A chimpanzee mega-culture? Exploring behavioral continuity in Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii across northern DR Congo. PhD Thesis. University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.2). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 13 November 2013).

Kingdon, J. 1979. East African Mammals. Volume IIIB. Academic Press, New York.

Nixon, S. and Lusenge, T. 2008. Conservation status of okapi in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Zoological Society of London. Conservation Report 9., London, UK.

Nixon, S.C. 2010. Participatory assessment of Grauer's eastern gorilla and other wildlife in the Lubutu sector of Maiko National Park and adjacent forests. Fauna & Flora International. Unpublished report, Cambridge, UK.

Petric, A. (ed.). 2012. Proceedings of the International Okapi Meeting, Jacksonville Zoo, 8-11 November 2012 . Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Texas.

Quinn, A., Queslin, E. and Kümpel, N. 2013. Conservation status review of the okapi. Zoological Society of London, London, UK.

Citation: Mallon, D., Kümpel, N., Quinn, A., Shurter, S., Lukas, J., Hart, J. & Mapilanga, J. 2013. Okapia johnstoni. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 23 April 2014.
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