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Finding and retrieving okapi specimens was one of the expedition's most celebrated public missions. Henry Osborn, the Museum's President at the time, wanted to "obtain for the American public materials for a habitat group of the Okapi before the progress of civilization should make this impossible," wrote Lang. When Lang and Chapin set out on their expedition in 1909, they hoped not only to bring back dead specimens of okapi to display in the Museum, but they also hoped to bring back at least one live specimen for display at the Bronx Zoo.

"After traveling up the river to Stanleyville, twelve hundred miles inland, and after marching with a caravan of two hundred porters for twenty-one days across the forests to the northeast, we reached Avakubi and later arrived at Medge, a nine-day journey to the northwest, where we made our headquarters," wrote Lang.

From Medje, they traveled southward into the remote territory governed by the chief Banda. They had dismissed all but 25 of their porters so they wouldn't overtax sparse local food supplies. Though the Belgian government had originally assigned a dozen soldiers to guard them, Lang and Chapin sent them home, too, because their presence so intimidated the locals that they would not cooperate with the okapi hunt.

After earning the trust of the local people in Banda's tribe, Lang stationed native assistants in camps throughout the surrounding forest, waiting for reports of captured okapi. Dead animals deteriorate quickly in the steamy tropical forest, so Lang would bolt to any reported capture site.

"As news of the Okapi arrived," he wrote, "I ran out day by day, crossed swamps and rivers...slept in the forest, and joined their hunting parties even in the dead of night."

Okapis are extremely sensitive to sound. They hide in the almost impassible, dense, and swampy thickets in the daytime, and enter the more open, higher, drier parts of the forest to feed at night. Okapi use the sandy riverbeds as paths through the thickets. As the sun sets, they head for the hills again, spending most of the time in the higher, drier parts of the forest where the trees are thinner.

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More Expedition Readings

(click images for larger view)

AMNH # 111519, Male Okapi

Male Okapi

AMNH # 111435, Avingura hunter sitting with Okapi

Avingura hunter

AMNH # 111312, Okapi habitat vegetation study

Vegetation study