They may look like zebras, but okapi are actually more closely related to giraffes. Surprising, isn’t it? One of the traits they share with giraffes is their 16-inch long tongue which they use to wrap around branches and gather leaves. Every day, our Horticulture department at the Houston Zoo provides our okapi with branches from their favorite trees. The Hoofed Stock Keepers will strategically place these branches in high locations to encourage the okapi to manipulate and use their incredibly long tongues.
Our three resident okapis, Kwame, Tulia and Mandazi, eat about one bale of alfalfa every week. Given that one bale of alfalfa weighs about 65 pounds, that means our okapi consume more than 3300 pounds of alfalfa every year! To supplement the nutrients found in alfalfa, we give our okapi different types of produce including romaine lettuce, kale, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, and occasionally pears. Our okapi LOVE their produce! Often times they are in such a hurry to eat their produce, they will follow their keepers and use their long tongues to steal produce from the carrying bags before our staff can even put the food in their food buckets! Kwame, our 13-year-old male, has a bit of a sweet tooth and would rather eat the apples and sweet potatoes and completely ignore the kale. Tulia, our five-year-old female, will practically inhale her food and lick the food bucket so that she can get every last morsel.