Why was the Okapi called the African Unicorn?

Why was the Okapi called the African Unicorn? 

The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is an African ungulate (hoofed) mammal in the Giraffidae family, related to the giraffe. It has chocolate to reddish-brown fur. Its legs have white horizontal stripes with white ankles. Its face, throat, and chest are greyish white. It has a long neck and large flexible ears.

The male has two short ossicones (bony structures) on its forehead, covered in hair. They are not horns. 


The Unicorn is a fictitious animal – it is not true. It is an ungulate (hoofed) mammal that looks like a horse with one single large, pointed, spiral horn from its forehead. It has shiny white fur. The Unicorn is said to have magical powers.

So, why was the Okapi called the African Unicorn when it has two short, bony ossicones and not a single horn?

In the 16thcentury, when European travellers went to Africa, they were told about the Okapi, but few people ever saw it. The Okapi is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a country in central Africa. It is found in a small jungle area in the Ituri forests. The Okapi is shy and timid, and it hides. It is difficult to find in its natural habitat, and people thought that it did not exist. Therefore, it became known as the African Unicorn. 

People also said that there was a creature that looked like a horse with one horn in Africa, but they could not provide evidence of it. 

There is no horse-like animal with one horn. An animal with one horn in Africa and Asia is the Rhinoceros in the Rhinocerotidae family. It is related to the horse and the tapir.


Location of photographs: Paris Zoo, France

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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