Captive okapi. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Twelve-year-old on a mission to save Africa’s most unusual animal, the okapi, an interview with Spencer Tait
(02/16/2010) Anyone who says a kid can’t change the world hasn’t met Spencer Tait. At the age of five Spencer had his first encounter with the Congo’s elusive okapi at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Spencer—now 12 years old—describes that encounter as ‘love at first sight’. He explains that while the okapi “looks like a mix between a zebra, horse, and giraffe […] it’s really only related to the giraffe.” Seeing the okapi at the museum led Spencer not only to learn all about the okapi, but also to find out what was threatening the animal’s survival, including the long civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the okapi’s home. Most kids—and adults too—would probably leave it at that, but not Spencer.
(09/02/2009) The giraffe is one of Africa’s most recognizable animals, but its shy and elusive forest cousin, the okapi, was so little known that until just over a century ago the western world believed it was a mythical beast, an African unicorn. Today, a shroud of mystery still envelops the okapi, an animal that looks like a cross between a zebra, a donkey, and a giraffe. But what is known is cause for concern. Its habitat, long protected by its remoteness, was the site of horrific civil strife, with disease, famine, and conflict claiming untold numbers of Congolese over the past decade. Now, as a semblance of peace has settled over Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the okapi’s prospects have further dimmed, for its home is increasingly seen as a rich source of timber, minerals, and meat to help the war-torn country rebuild. In an effort to ensure that the okapi does not become a victim of economic recovery, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) is working to protect the okapi and its habitat. Founded by John Lukas in 1987, well before the conflict, OCP today manages the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC.