The bonobo is one of the most rare and intelligent animals in the world. The social structure of this magnificent ape is unique and complex: in the largely peaceful bonobo society, the females rule the roost. Bonobos are members of the great ape family, along with gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees. Earlier scientists thought the bonobo was just a smaller version of the common chimpanzee and so the term “pygmy chimpanzee” was used. But don’t be fooled! Bonobos and chimpanzees are really quite different—you just need to know what to look for. | photos by Helene Hoffman
“The okapi is not an unknown animal. Though they are exceedingly rare in the wild, you may well have seen an okapi in the zoo, for they have adapted very well to captivity, and they are displayed in many large zoos throughout the world. The okapi is a shy animal, and not at all monstrous in appearance. It looks somewhere halfway between a zebra and a giraffe. In fact, it is the closest living relative of the giraffe.
“Yet the okapi must be mentioned in a book of monsters and unknown animals, for it is the last large and singular-looking land animal to be discovered by science. The discovery took place at the turn of the century, at a time when most scientists believed that all the important animal discoveries had already been made.
“Explorers in Africa had long heard rumors of the unknown animal, and its first appearance in print dates back to about 1890, when Sir Henry Stanley’s book In Darkest Africa appeared. It was another ten years before Sir Harry Johnston sent back from the forests of the Congo a complete okapi skin and two skulls. During the 1920s some living okapis were sent to European zoos, and the first American okapi arrived in the Bronx zoo in 1937.
“The okapi had escaped scientific detection for so long because it made its home in the depths of inhospitable Congo (now Zaire) jungle, where few Europeans cared to linger. Being a secretive creature, the okapi was simply overlooked, and the Europeans brushed aside as untrustworthy the stories of the native pygmies, who knew the animal well.
“Other land animals, the pygmy hippopotamus, the mountain gorilla, and the pygmy chimpanzee, for example, were discovered even more recently, but they closely resemble known species and could easily be confused with them. The okapi does not really look like any other animal and it represents a type of creature thought to be long extinct. The okapi is now being considered as the symbol of the International Society of Cryptozoology.”