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The African Unicorn

The tales of the "African Unicorn" date back as far as Ancient Egypt. Now referred to as Okapi, they were believed to be a mythical creature until the beginning of the 20th century. Yet, this illusive creature faces real endangerment before we even have the chance to learn anything about it.

Aside from Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting the Okapi, pygmies in Central Africa frequently told tales about life amongst the unicorns. They are covered in a lavish fur of red, brown, black, and white, with erratic patterns and small horns on their heads, and average roughly 6 feet (2m) tall and about 8 feet (2.5m) long. When Europeans questioned the pygmies as to why the creature was never seen, they were informed the unicorns have extremely shy personalities and prefer the life of a wood nymph, dwelling deep in the cover of dense forest where they forage off leaves, shoots, and fruits.

Outsiders saw these pygmy depictions as fanciful stories and placed no credence on such tales, until 1901 when Sir Harry Johnston was gifted pelts of unicorn fur in gratitude for securing the freedom of several captured pygmies. Johnston received much criticism amongst European circles for attempting to circulate these pelts as authentic, as it appeared to be representative of several wild animals, rather than just one. Social circles scolded him for endeavoring to get people to believe in a fictional creature as a factual being. After all, it was the dawn of 20th century and not the time of King Arthur. That criticism ended abruptly in 1918, when an Okapi was captured and showcased throughout Europe. It captivated crowds, as the Okapi looked like nature had combined a zebra and a giraffe. Research, much later in the 20th century, would reveal that this once elusive unicorn is actually the ancestor of the giraffe.

For all of the enrichment the Okapi brought to the lives of our ancestors, it prefers to keep its involvement with humans in the shadows. Unfortunately, this breathtaking beauty faces the fate of mythological fables, as persistent human interference has rendered it endangered. People are destroying the Congo at a record-breaking pace. This irresponsible behavior is globally concerning as the Congo is the second most significant rainforest in the world next to the Amazon. It also happens to be where most Okapi call home. Further, overzealous attraction profiteers swoop in and justify trapping this endangered mystical animal under the guise of protecting it from environmental exploiters in hopes of acquiring short-term profits for their efforts.

There is a kind of sleepiness over the eyes of an industrialized humanity. This is readily realized when we consider that people lived in harmony with the unicorn for millennia. The flawed life concept of profit above all else bulldozed its way in to threaten the existence of a living mythical legend. A living legend that was so pervasive to our understanding of this planet that it appears at the beginning of our recorded history. What message does their destruction send to future generations?

This is Deb Duxbury, for Animal Life, reminding you to please spay or neuter your pet.

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