The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is one of the most unique animals on the face of the planet. This uniqueness is also found in their dietary habits and their food source. The Okapi are found in the rainforests of the central Congo, so their diet is entirely based upon the foliage that can be found in the forest.

            The Okapi is unique in the fact that it is strictly an herbivore with a strictly foliage based diet (Hart, 2009). The Okapi will only dine on the leaves of lower level plants around the Congo. It will rarely, if ever, eat things such as berries, twigs, and bark in the wild. But, if in captivity, the Okapi can be fed grains along with leaves to supplement their diet (Okapi Fact Sheet, 2009). Many animals have their “favorite” foods such as the eucalyptus plant for the koala, but the okapi does not have a single favorite type of leaf to eat. The okapi, a solitary animal, will wander around its habitat feeding from the leaves of over one hundred different species of trees and shrubs (Hart, 2009)! The reason that the okapi does this is to reduce the amount of a specific toxin it is ingesting. Many plants in the Congo produce toxins to discourage herbivores from eating their leaves (Hart, 2009). If too much of one kind of leaf is ingested, the toxin levels would build up and the animal could possibly die. The okapi avoids all of this, simply because it eats very little amounts of many different kinds of plants. On a typical day the okapi will ingest about four to five kilograms of leaves (Okapi Fact Sheet, 2009).

               One may think that this makes the okapi a very diverse feeder, which is true to an extent, but the okapi are also very picky eaters. They are choosy about what leaves it will eat and which plants it will eat leaves off of. The okapi only consumes leaves from woody plants. It will pass up leaves from non-woody and large leaved herbs along the forest floor (Hart, 2009). After the okapi has found a plant that it would like to eat from it will even be more selective on which leaves it will eat off that plant. The okapi will only eat fully mature and healthy leaves off a plant. The okapi will rarely eat immature leaves and will never eat older, dying leaves. If the leaf is covered in something like algae or a moss the okapi will pass it up (Hart, 2009). There are very few things that the okapi will eat besides leaves. It may eat clay, burnt charcoal, and bat guano to supplement some vitamins and minerals if needed (Okapi Fact Sheet, 2009). These things make the okapi one of the most diverse and picky eaters in the animal kingdom.

            The okapi has several evolved attributes that help eat and maximize the amount of energy absorbed out of the food it ingests. One of these are that the okapi has developed is its ruminant digestive system (Hart, 2009). The okapi has a rumen which stores bacteria that can break down cellulose along with several stomachs to further digest plant material. The okapi also regurgitates some of its food so it can re-eat it and give it one more chance to be digested even more. The okapi’s cud (thrown up material) is seen as extremely repulsive to other herbivores, even other ruminants (Hart, 2009). This gives a huge advantage to the okapi. If the okapi regurgitates and doesn’t have time to eat it, the animal can always return later without having to worry about it being eaten later. Another adaptation can also be found in the okapi’s close relative, the giraffe. This adaptation is the presence of an extremely long tongue (Hart, 2009). This long tongue is used to strip leaves off of plants without the need to bite. This allows the okapi to get leaves off branches without biting off any of the branch ends along with the leaves.

               The okapi has a very highly adapted digestive system to help it deal with its’ strictly leaf diet. Their digestive system is very good at breaking down cellulose but not nearly as efficient at breaking down starch and other sugars. This was shown in a study in which the urine of okapis was analyzed for the presence of proteins, glucose, bilirubin, nitrates, blood and ketones. The pH of the urine was also taken. There was an excess amount of glucose in the urine showing that the okapi was very inefficient at digesting glucose (Glaston, 1980). A young okapi does not defecate for about the first month of its life. This is due to the fact that the young okapi just lies in one location for about a month while its mother forages. The mother only returns briefly to nurse the young (Hart, 2009). The okapi will begin to eat leaves at about three weeks and will start to ruminate at about six weeks. The okapi are well suited to survive in its environment due to its ruminant digestive system, long tongue, and ability to not defecate for a month to help conceal its location during its young years.