Okapi: More lies than Sarah Palin!!!

Well, not really lies, but untruths. As perhaps the only person blogging on Scienceblogs.com who has actually eaten an okapi (Okapi johnstoni), I feel the need to clarify some misconceptions that are floating around about this beast.

If you go to the Sb home page, you’ll find numerous links to the current Okapi story, about how the first photographs of a wild okapi have been obtained, and how the okapi was thought to have been wiped out due to the current civil war. I do not have time to write extensively about this right now, but I’ll make a few points.

First, it is not the case that wild okapis have not been photographed before. Of course they have, though quite rarely. This might be (not verified) such a photograph:

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This is from one of several books by Gatti on the Congo.

Second, no one thought the okapi was wiped out by the civil war. This assertion was made only for one of the several patches of forest they live in. They still need protection and we are all terribly worried about them, but nobody actually thought they were totally wiped out.

Third, “okapi” is pronounced in one of two ways, either with the K or without (and a glottal stop in it’s place … oh [stop] OP eee) and it is one of the very few words that you know in the Kilese language, the language of many of the people (including most of the Pygmies) of the Ituri Forest. itene talu teseba erembe rachanini. There, now you now a few more words but I’m not going to tell you what they mean because it’s kinda dumb.

This is a tonal language, so if you say the name of this animal wrong, you could be saying something you don’t mean. (not really likely, though, if you’ve got the context down. Like no one is going to think you are saying “Hey, where do I get my fur coat cleaned” while you are pointing at the picture of the Okapi in the animal guide book.)

By the way, although you probably don’t know much Kilese, you might actually know some cognates in other Afro-Asiatic languages. To the chagrin (quite frankly) of the average Israeli or Arab, Hebrew and Arabic are run of the mill African Languages and words like Ima and Afa (mom and dad) tend to be very similar in all of these languages (as is true for any language family). So when a baby Lese or baby Pygmy or baby Tel Avivian or a baby Saudi utters her first word, it’s all pretty much the same word.

And yes, they do taste like certain parts of the local elephants. I’ve only had okapi once, and it was a very unusual situation that I may tell you about another time.

Finally, when they run, they sound like a horse. But invisible.

Comments

  1. #1 M.Z.
    September 12, 2008

    Could you provide recordings of invisible horses for the enlightenment of your readers?

  2. #2 Coturnix
    September 12, 2008

    Thank you. I was reading the others and wondering what was I missing – I thought I’ve seen pictures of the okapi in the wild before and did not hear anything about it being extinct outside of zoos.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 12, 2008

    A lot of the pictures you see are actually at the Epulu research station (a few km north of “mombasa” … the other mombasa) and they are not really wild, but rather in large naturalistic enclosures. So it is hard to tell on a picture by picture basis.

  4. #4 Phil
    September 12, 2008

    And what did it taste like? Hopefully not chicken. Venisony perhaps?

  5. #5 eddie
    September 12, 2008

    …Pygmies) of the Ituri Forest.

    Some might say that as ‘the I [stop] uri Forest’.

    Seriously, d’you think the GOP campaign will be affected much by them all running off to NC with their guns?

  6. #6 Zach
    September 12, 2008

    Would any Arab or Israeli really have a problem believing their language didn’t spring from the earth fully formed? I guess maybe you’ve run into some pretty sheltered individuals. I don’t think any Israelis I know would have a problem believing that their language had origins in Africa.

  7. #7 Zach
    September 12, 2008

    Would any Arab or Israeli really have a problem believing their language didn’t spring from the earth fully formed? I guess maybe you’ve run into some pretty sheltered individuals. I don’t think any Israelis I know would have a problem believing that their language had origins in Africa.

  8. #8 llewelly
    September 13, 2008

    Finally, when they run, they sound like a horse. But invisible.

    Now if only they were pink and had one horn.

  9. #9 greg laden
    September 13, 2008

    Zach, Hebrew does not have origins in Africa. It is an African Language. If you speak Hebrew you speak an African language.

    Llewelly: Actually, it has been suggested that the Okapi is one of the many possible sources of the unicorn myth. But of course that’s pretty dumb.

  10. #10 Jonathan Vos Post
    September 13, 2008

    Anyone here besides me ever eat Mammoth meat? Frozen for a long time. Thawed. At the Explorers Club in New York City, maybe 30 years ago. From Siberia. Gamey. Chewey. Bones used to build sacred huts of Shamans. Impresses my students who’ve eaten, at best, Rattlesnake Chili or Alligator Sausage. My wife and I often barbecue kangaroo, buffalo, and other critters. Other than all her policies, and her creationism (WHICH version does she believe?), I have no problem with Sarah Palin shooting caribou from helicopters.

  11. #11 travc
    September 13, 2008

    Johnathan, Palin’s ‘predator control’ BS is shooting wolves from aircraft to ostensibly increase ungulate populations and make them easier to hunt for tourists. Not that this is on topic…

  12. #12 greg laden
    September 13, 2008

    About half the wild animal species that I’ve eaten, I’ve been involved in the hunt. But never, ever with guns. That is just not fair. let along helicopters)

  13. #13 Elizabeth
    September 13, 2008

    Cute. It looks like a tapir with leggings.

  14. #14 Theo Bromine
    September 14, 2008

    Cute, but I can see why the wildebeest threatened legal action if he were to be mistaken for one.

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    September 14, 2008

    Greg, sometimes the point isn’t being fair. Sometimes, although obviously not in the case of the okapi, the point is to cut the numbers down so the animals don’t face a much worse death by winter starvation, or even by pickup truck.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    September 15, 2008

    Stephanie: I totally agree. I guarantee that if you gave the male members of the six Pygmy groups I worked with each a firearm (of pretty much any kind) and ammo, there would be nothing walking on four legs or hanging on two arms in the region. This is why bushmeat trade is so good at wiping out animals: Being good with a gun/rifle is not important. Being good at HUNTING is important. Someone who is good at hunting (with, say, bow and arrow) will pick up the details of the firearm very quickly and then …. that’s it as long as the ammo holds out.

    Now, give every able bodies person in Minneapolis a firearm and ammo and send them up Routes 36, 169, and 371 with a truck of ammo and as much time as they want and in five or ten years you will have a deer population low enough to start worrying about its survival.

    Frankly, it is not just being nice to the animals (avoiding starvation, etc) it is that they become dangers, even vermin-like. I have not seen this in Minnesota, though as a person who has had Lyme Disease (as many have) I have a special place in my heart for deer hunters. Anyway, in Connecticut (the ultimate example of the urban-wild overlap) many people have to keep a large stick in their car so they can use it to push aside the deer feeding on gardens, lawns, and bushes, as they (the people) go from their car to their home after work. And I’m only exaggerating by one or two OOMs.

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    September 15, 2008

    Dead on. I do nothing to control the deer population because, as good as I am with a gun, I am not a hunter. I’m not willing to spend the time to get uncertain results, and I’m not sure I could pull the trigger with something alive in front of me. I had a tough enough time drowning the squirrels I trapped in the attic, and I hate squirrels with an irrational passion. Butchering a deer once it’s dead is no issue, though, so I do my share.

    As for sending people up north (36?), I’d be much more concerned about the effects on the human population.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    September 15, 2008

    I always add or subtract a one or a five from any route number I mention in Minnesota. I don’t know why. But it is my only annoying trait.

    (Comments are now closed on this post)

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    September 15, 2008

    Good idea. Can’t have Julia getting on here and spilling all her dad’s secret vices.

  20. #20 Field Trippler
    September 17, 2008

    A photo (credited to Illustrated London News and “Sig. Ribotti”) appeared in the Washington Post Sept. 20, 1907 with the text: “The first photograph of a living Okapi, a calf of about 1 month old.”

    Also, a long article by Atillio Gatti appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on Nov 6, 1935, entitled “Hunting with the Camera” which describes his succesful attempt to photograph an Okapi. In the article, he states: “A noise of moving leaves, followed at once by the song of the mutuki, told us that the Okapi, having become aware of our approach, had plunged into the forest… and had stopped there to try to determine clearly what was taking place…. Before I was able to take in the fact that he was a beautiful male… I had already snapped half a dozen pictures…. His teeth ground with irritation, and he laid back his ears, accentuating the strange outline of his head. Then he lunged forward, giving me just the time to jump quickly aside as I was clicking my fifteenth photograph.

  21. #21 colin
    September 28, 2008

    The 1907 picture of infant okapi was a captured animal that was then put down for some pics, this is all on record at ZSL (written by the photographer) therefore the cynics quoting (and posting) this pic are wrong about it being in the wild.

    As for the other one mentioned above, haven’t seen it myself so can’t say too much but the sensationalist gibberish the photgrapher wrote (ooh, the dangerous charging okapi! please…) sounds like the old “ferocious gorillas raping women” type of story of old so i personally don’t put too much stock in it.

    oh, and if eating an animal makes you an expert i must be an authority on cows, chickens, sheep, goat, without even realizing it. Plus the “like a horse but invisible” line suggests that taking a photo of one gnashing its teeth while it decided what to do is kinda unlikely, don’t you think?

  22. #22 greg laden
    September 28, 2008

    Colin, is that you? Goodness, you’ve certainly gotten worked up into a bad mood since we last spoke. No, wait, you must be a different colin. Please tell me it is not you. Have we met?

    You might be right about the photo, but what is definately true is that tens of thousands of unpublished photos have accumulated over the last 30 years or so of research in the Ituri Forest, where the Okapi is common. I would not be even a tiny bit surprised if there were dozens of pictures of wild Okapai. Unless I hear this form the Harts, I’m not committing. The Virunga forest is a very marginal habitat for these animals. and the hype regarding this expedition was outrageous. We don’t need that kind of misinformation, if you please.

    Regarding the link between my expertise and my having partaken of the flesh: Just so you know, that was a literary technique not an actual claim. Yes, I’ve eaten Okapi, and yes, compared to my Sb colleagues who were just repeating a news story, I’m light years into the expert range (which was my exact claim). My expertise with Okapi specifically is limited, but my expertise on the ecosystem we are talking about comes from living there for three years doing research, and writing my thesis there. So, a little expertise, not much. But to this I’ll add that you probably don’t have to work too hard to get your teeth on a hamburger.

    Your last sentence, about the horse, is incomprehensible to me. I’m just a dumb guy and don’t get what you are saying here.

    Feel free to explain but starting now you be polite or you are deleted. Children read this blog.

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