Image: Okapi legs
WCS
Okapi can be 6 feet tall at the shoulder and up to 8 feet long. Their stripes make them resemble a zebra, but they are relatives of larger giraffes. This one was imaged by a camera trap in Virunga National Park.
updated 9/10/2008 5:44:45 PM ET 2008-09-10T21:44:45

An okapi, a rare giraffe-like mammal not seen for 50 years in an African wildlife park, has been captured on film. Or, at least the striped legs of the forest-dwelling creature have been photographed.

The new image was made by a camera trap in the African Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park. The okapi, sometimes called a "forest giraffe," has apparently survived in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, despite more than a decade of civil war and increased poaching, according to Wildlife Conservation Society officials.

"This is the first time this species has been captured on film in this park," said WCS researcher Deo Kujirakwinja. "Known to occur in the park from the early 1900s, it had not been seen here for over 50 years. Two years ago, sightings of dung and other tracks were made in the park by a team of pygmy trackers who knew okapi sign. It is very encouraging to see that this animal has survived."

Okapi are native to a rainforest in the DR Congo. They had been sighted occasionally over the years in a different park, the Okapi Faunal Reserve, in that country, according to the WCS.

The animals can be 6 feet tall at the shoulder and up to 8 feet long. Their stripes make them resemble a zebra, but they are relatives of larger giraffes.

The animal's current range occurs in the Ituri Forest in northern DR Congo. They are classified as Near Threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and are at risk primarily from habitat destruction. Virunga Park, despite being very remote, is the hideout of a rebel group (ADF – Allied Democratic Front) that has been battling the government of Uganda for more than 20 years. Last year, the WCS reported that several gorillas in the park had been shot and left to die.

Lately the area of the survey has become less hostile and therefore accessible to scientists.

Preliminary results of the broader survey in the park indicate that many antelope species are at low density but that some species such as chimpanzees have survived fairly well.

"The recent evidence that okapis still exist in the Virunga National Park is a good indication that large wildlife can rebound in areas impacted by unrest and poaching," said Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS's Albertine Rift Program.

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