(CNN)A nudge above the equator in one of the most biodiverse places in Africa lives an almost-mythical mammal that few people have ever seen.
The striped okapi is often described as half-zebra, half-giraffe, as if it were a hybrid creature from a Greek legend. So rare is the okapi, that it was unknown to the western world until the turn of the 20th century.
While the okapi is virtually unheard of in the West, its image pervades life in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- the only country in the world where it is found living in the wild -- gracing cigarette packets, plastic water bottles, and even the back of rumpled Congolese Francs. The okapi is to the Congo what the giant panda is to China or the kangaroo to Australia.
But decades of misrule under a succession of dictators has seen much of the Congo's natural resources spin out of the government's control, and okapi numbers fall by 50% since 1995.