Ride the wild okapi

Following on my 8/12/22 posting “Mi okapi es su okapi”, one more set of AI bricolages of artworks and okapis, plus a lot of stuff that seems to have wandered in from Randomland — in the “digital art” Bert Vaux got on 8/12 by asking for “oil painting of female cowboys riding okapis in the style of klimt”. Which will lead me to contemplate actual okapis at some length.

Bert’s Klimtokapi cowgirls:

(#1)  The program doesn’t know much about Klimt’s style — the women look a lot like Carmen Miranda, without the fruit — and takes several very different approaches to depicting okapis — meanwhile, three of the women (in the 4th panel) appear to be fuzzy versions of the Magi (well, the program cobbles together whatever it comes across)

Previously on this channel. From “Mi okapi es su okapi”:

From Bert Vaux on Facebook on 8/10, one in a series of digitally altered artworks:

(#2)[BV caption:] “renaissance portrait of herd of okapis with king’s college cambridge in background, digital art”

My FB response: I’m just fond of okapis. We need more okapi art.

Okapiana. I have to admit that part of what drives my attraction for the okapi is the delicious name; hey, I’m a linguist and a poet and something of a Zippyesque onomatomane (chant with me: okapi okapi okapi), respect my trip. But then there are the beautiful creatures themselves: elegant, powerful, and agile.

The short story, from NOAD:

noun okapi: a large browsing mammal of the giraffe family that lives in the rainforests of northern Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). It has a dark chestnut coat with stripes on the hindquarters and upper legs. Okapia johnstoni, family Giraffidae.

Yes, the giraffe family. You might be thinking of okapis along with zebras and antelopes, and they are all indeed ungulates — hoofed mammals, mostly browsers — but taxonomically of three different affiliations: okapis with giraffes, zebras with horses, antelopes with cattle. Within the world of ungulates, the thing that unites okapis, zebras, and a whole bunch of antelopes (impalas, kudus, elands, nilgai, duikers. dik-diks, springboks, reeboks, oryxes, hartebeests, wildebeests) is their exotic names.

Taxonomically, within the world of ungulates, okapis are in the order Artiodactyla, of even-toed ungulates (including pigs, peccaries, hippopotamuses, antelopes, deer, giraffes, camels, llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, and cattle) — versus the order Perissodactyla, of odd-toed ungulates (including horses, asses, zebras, rhinoceroses, and tapirs).

Another artistic okapi. From Bert Vaux on 8/10:

(#3) [BV caption:] “depiction in medieval stained glass of okapi in oxford”

From the ensuing FB exchanges:

— Liz Walsh: Who do I contact at King’s to request that okapi stained glass be commissioned for the chapel? (These have all been great, art needs more okapis!)

— Douglas Anderson: The next-to-last appendage in that series of hooves is an Oxford comma.

— AZ > LW: Yes, yes! The Okapi Art Claque must be heard! (Pigeons on the grass alas / Okapi on the veldt oy gevalt)

Okapis in the wild. And as candidates for riding. From the Wild Life FAQ site:

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is located in Ituri Forest, DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. UNESCO estimates that the wildlife reserve hosts a whopping 5000 okapis. This is a heritage site and is one of the most unique and serene places in the world. The wildlife reserve is an epicenter for research and conservation. The color and the physical features of the okapis make them blend in the dense rainforest. The zebra uses its stripes in order to shoo away the flies; the okapi uses the stripes in order to blend in the sun-dappled trees.

The DRC (Ituri Forest) is the only place where the okapis can be found in the wild. One of them, in its natural habitat:

(#4) Looking like a graphic designer’s idea of a zebraffe, a cross beween a giraffe (it has a very giraffe-like head — the skulls are almost identical — but with large ears) and a zebra / horse (it has the body shape of a horse or zebra, plus some of the zebra’s stripes)

They have acute senses of hearing and smell (leopards are their only natural predator), and they are reclusive, largely solitary animals. Consequently, unlike wild horses, which are social animals, travelling in herds in open country, okapis are unlikely candidates for breaking to saddle and bridle. You’re not likely to get access to anything like this:

(#5) Okapi Saddled by korat on DeviantArt

Without the saddle, you’re trying to ride bareback, and unless you’re practiced at this skill, you’re just going to slide off.

In any case, the word is that (unlike horses) giraffes, zebras, and okapis are inclined to be temperamental and hard to control in general.

Beyond that, okapis are just very hard to find. Around the world, or in their remaining habitat.

And then, crucially, they’re seriously endangered animals, legally protected in their Ituri Forest preserve in the northeast corner of the DRC. People aren’t supposed to mess with okapis in any way. Hands off!

So: if you thought that it would be fun to ride a wild okapi, so you could just travel to the jungles of the northeast DRC, snag one, and slide onto its back, whoopee, get that thought out of your head. There will be no rides on the wild okapi.

Okapi Simulacra. If you know the right people, you might get a chance to at least mount a taxidermy okapi, though the experience will be sadly lacking in motion. As here:

(#6) From simon-the-stuffa’s Tumblr page, showing a woman mounted bareback on a taxidermy okapi of his crafting

For more motion but less realism, you could go for a carousel okapi; many zoos have conservation carousels. As here:

(#7) Carousel okapi on the Memphis (TN) Zoo conservation carousel (in Sept. 2021)

On the other hand. In earlier times, okapis were captured in the DRC and installed in zoos around the world; some of these zoos bred their okapis on-site, raised the calves there, then traded the next generation to zoos that wanted to add an okapi to their collection. In any case, the calves were raised with human beings around them from birth, and have learned to accommodate to us.

We have then created a population of zookapi, animals that almost surely could no longer be returned to the Ituri forests. Meanwhile, some zoos go so far as to domesticate their okapi(s) to some degree, treating them (and zebras as well) as like horses, at least to the point of allowing some visitors to the zoo to feed or stroke the animals. From the Facebook page of the Sacramento (CA) Zoo, feeding an okapi:

(#8) “Calling all animal lovers! Have you ever wondered what it is like to hand-feed a giraffe, touch an okapi, or watch an alligator training up close? Now is your chance! The Behind the Scenes Tours take guests one step closer to the animals at the Sacramento Zoo.”

There are stories of zoo personnel having trained okapis (and zebras) to the saddle and bridle, so that they can be ridden. That could certainly be managed with some of the more docile animals, but the idea makes me decidedly uncomfortable. Feeding wild animals is one thing, Riding them or having them do tricks is another.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: