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11 Mysterious Facts About Okapis

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The giraffe’s closest living relative is a striped, long-tongued beast called the okapi. These forest-dwelling creatures are elusive—so much so that the species wasn't discovered by western scientists for centuries. Here’s what every animal enthusiast should know about okapis.

1. OKAPIS WERE UNKNOWN TO SCIENCE UNTIL FAIRLY RECENTLY.

While traveling through central Africa in the 1800s, European explorers would sometimes hear reports of a shy, hoofed, forest-dwelling mammal with distinctive striped hindquarters. During the late 1870s/'80s, a Russian adventurer named Wilhelm Junker managed to obtain a sample of the animal’s hide. Noting its stripes, he misidentified its owner as some new species of zebra, antelope, or chevrotain.

Rumors about the mystery creature eventually reached Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston, a British colonial administrator with a passion for biology. In 1899, he was appointed Special Commissioner of Uganda, and the following year, Johnston was given two shoulder belts made with the skins of an animal the locals called “o’api.” Then, in 1901, he received three more specimens: an entire hide and two isolated skulls. Their anatomy demonstrated that the species was in fact a close cousin of the giraffe. By the end of the year, a correspondent of Johnston’s had announced the existence of this animal—which we now know as the okapi—in a scientific paper, with the scientific name Okapia johnstoni.

2. OKAPIS AREN’T SOCIABLE.

How did the okapi, which stands over 5 feet tall and can weigh between 440 and 770 pounds, go undiscovered by scientists until 1901? The species’s preferred habitat played a big role in keeping it off the radar. Even today, scientists have a hard time locating or monitoring okapis because they live in dense, inhospitable forests. Since the striped herbivores are so difficult to observe in the wild, we know very little about their social habits. But with this said, it would appear that okapis lead a solitary existence. According to data collected from radio collars, adults spend most of their lives inside of a territory that might overlap with those of other individuals, but okapis seldom cross paths. While newborn calves will hang around their mothers until they mature, the evidence suggests that full-grown okapis—unlike giraffes—don’t travel together (although other researchers have noted that okapis might travel in pairs on rare occasions).

3. PROPORTIONATELY, OKAPIS HAVE LONGER TONGUES THAN GIRAFFES DO.

Both of these herbivores have long, prehensile tongues that help them pull leaves off of tree limbs. The tongues are bluish or grayish in color over the first several inches, which scientists believe prevents them from getting sunburned. A giraffe can be up to 19 feet tall—so relative to its smaller body size, the okapi’s 14- to 18-inch tongue is more impressive than the giraffe’s 20-inch tongue.

4. THE SPECIES’S RANGE IS NOW CONFINED TO ONE COUNTRY.

We know from a range of evidence that okapis once lived in Uganda. Unfortunately, they seem to have gone extinct there. Currently, wild okapis can only be found within the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they live in the dense forests of the northern and central recesses. Population estimates vary, but most scientists think that just 10,000 to 50,000 non-captive okapis are left in the world. They’ve recently been classed as endangered across their entire range.

5. ONLY MALES HAVE HORNS.

Okapis are sexually dimorphic, which means there are visible differences between the sexes that have nothing to do with their reproductive organs. For example, male okapis have a horn structure called an ossicone (like a giraffe), but females don’t have real horns, and instead have bumps. When mating season arrives, rival bucks will often use the horns to flank one another.

6. OKAPIS SOMETIMES EAT CHARCOAL.

These browsers subsist on a varied diet that includes the seeds, fruits, and leaves of more than 100 different types of plants, and the occasional fungi. To obtain important minerals, okapis will also lick clays that they find at riverbanks and eat charcoal off of scorched trees.

7. BABIES CAN GO OVER A MONTH WITHOUT POOPING.

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Nobody knows why, but newborn okapis usually don’t defecate for the first time until they’re four to 10 weeks old. (But it’s still unknown how much the peculiar situation of zoos affects this timeframe. Until the late 1970s, many baby okapis were suffering from rectal prolapse because of bored mothers overlicking their young’s rectal area.) This could be a survival strategy: Fecal material can attract predators, so maybe the absence of bowel movements early on helps to conceal the calves’ scent from leopards and other carnivores.

8. THEIR FEET RELEASE A FOUL-SMELLING SUBSTANCE.

On each foot, an okapi has a peculiar gland that sits between the toes and secretes a pungent, waxy material often described as tar-like—and during forest excursions, they sometimes leave that material behind. It’s been speculated that this helps okapis mark their territories, which they’ll also do by spraying urine over shrubs. While an adult female will generally ignore other individuals who wander onto her home range, males apparently behave aggressively towards each another and try to ward off intruders of their own sex. (In the process, those horns are put to good use.)

9. OKAPIS HAVE AN UNUSUAL GAIT.

Giraffes and okapis differ from the majority of quadrupedal animals in the way that they walk. To get from Point A to Point B, most quadrupeds—including dogs and cats—will simultaneously move one leg on their right side and another leg on the left side. In contrast, okapis and giraffes swing both right limbs forward at the same time, then they’ll do likewise with both left limbs. (For a visual aid, check out the above video.) However, when there’s a need for speed, the two species will gallop in a horse-like manner.

10. THEY EMIT NOISES THAT ARE TOO LOW FOR THE HUMAN EAR TO DETECT.

Okapis may not be the most vocal of animals, but they aren’t mutes either. “We hear coughs, bleats, and whistles quite often,” Dr. Matt Anderson, a behavioral ecologist who’s studied the okapis at the San Diego Zoo, notes in a blog post. Mothers will also communicate with their calves by releasing infrasounds—noises that fall below the normal limits of human hearing. Bioacoustics expert Elizabeth von Muggenthaler recently discussed this phenomenon in a 2013 paper. By keeping close tabs on okapi behavior, she’s found that you may be able to tell when an okapi is making infrasounds by watching the creature’s body language. As they generate ultra-low-frequency calls, the animals are known to rapidly jerk their heads upward and point their noses to the sky [PDF].

11. NOT ALL OKAPIS HAVE THE SAME NUMBER OF CHROMOSOMES.

Human cells generally contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, or 46 in total. Dog cells have 78 overall while 38 can be found in those of cats. But okapis are different. Although most have 46 per cell, a few specimens feature 44 or 45. What’s truly baffling about this is that okapis with an atypical chromosome count appear perfectly normal and healthy. The individuals who have 45 per cell are especially perplexing. Animals with an odd number of chromosomes usually exhibit physical abnormalities. Yet in a bizarre twist, the 45-chromosomed okapis look ordinary, as do their offspring. Geneticists are still trying to figure out what’s going on here.

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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