An operation carried out by Natural Resource Conservation Network in partnership with Uganda Police and Uganda Wildlife Authority have seen a boda boda cyclist arrested over possession of Okapi skin.
The suspect, Asiki Enzama claims that he was only hired to transport the skin from Congo to Uganda since he operates his boda boda business across the two countries, however, the contraband was found in his house raising queries about how the Okapi skin ended up in the house of a mere transporter. Asiki is currently detained at CPS under file number CRB 451/2019 and charged with Illegal possession of wildlife product without a wildlife use right contrary to section 30 and 75b of Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000.
Okapi is an endangered species according to International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), due to its value in the black market with a litter of okapi oil going for USD8000 and Okapi skin at USD5000 a kg.
The Okapi commonly known as the “forest Giraffe” is nearly impossible to observe in the wild of its acute hearing and smell ability. It is shy and usually solitary. There had been tales of the beautiful animal but only the native dwellers of the Congo rainforest had actually seen it. As a result, the okapi obtained almost mythical status and came to be known as the ‘African unicorn’. Explorers set out to confirm its existence but had no luck in spotting its stripes. It was only officially described in 1901 when Sir Harry Johnston acquired a complete skin and two skulls from grateful pygmies. Its scientific name became Okapia johnstoni in his honour.
Okapis survival through generations are attributed to their remarkable natural defences against predation, with leopards and humans being their main predators. They have large ears that help them to detect any disturbances, while the distinguishing brown and white marks on their rump act as camouflage in the forest. To avoid leopards, they will also stay in one place on a “nest” for the first six to nine weeks of their life, which is much longer than calves of other species are known to do.
Okapi mothers produce infrasonic calls at around 14HZ to communicate with their calves, which is useful in dense forest and cannot be heard by humans.
Okapis have scent glands on each foot that leave behind a tar-like substance to communicate their territory.
The okapi’s tongue measures between 14 and 18 inches long. They use it to wrap around leaves on which they feed, as well as to groom themselves and their calves. The tongue of an okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids!
Okapi is a cultural symbol in Congo and listed among the protected species in the world