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Native methods for catching okapi included nets, pitfalls, and noose traps. The first method required hundreds of hunters working together to drive the animals into the nets and it was rarely used. The most common method was the use of noose traps, which were set throughout the okapi's range and checked every couple of days. "Once caught, the animals usually kill themselves from fright," wrote Lang, and since days usually passed before Lang could get to the corpse, it was very hard to get a good specimen this way.

After many months of frustration, Lang finally recruited the help of Akenge, a powerful Azande chief who allowed Lang to join one of his annual hunting trips. The two-month trip was fruitful and the collections of rare animals were great, but still no acceptable okapi was found. Six weeks after their hunting expedition ended, one of Akenge's sons, Abawe, sent a message to Lang saying he was about to capture an infant okapi. The next day he made good on his promise and caught a week-old calf.

Unfortunately, ten days after its capture the calf died from lack of mother's milk. Lang's eight cans of condensed milk gave out after only four days and low river water had prevented steamers from getting provisions as high as usual up the Ubangi and Aruwimi rivers. Lang futilely tried to keep the little calf alive on a mixture of rice flour and water.

Although they did not bring home the coveted living specimen, the expedition did gather animals and materials for the world's most complete and accurate okapi habitat diorama of its day. It is still on display in the Museum's Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals.

Today, about 5,000 of the 30,000 or so existing okapi inhabit the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which occupies much of the Ituri Forest explored by Lang and Chapin in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Okapi have been protected by government decree since 1933, but commercial poaching and other human pressures in this war-torn country pose increasing threats.

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More Expedition Readings

(click images for larger view)

young okapi

Captive juvenile


AMNH diorama