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After tragedy, Okapi calf represents hope

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Following a devastating blow to Okapi conservation efforts this summer, a ray of hope arrived for this threatened species:  a healthy Okapi calf was born on September 15 at the Antwerp Zoo.

Conservationists were stunned when poachers raided the Okapi Wildlife Resrve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June, wiping out the entire breeding herd of 14 Okapi and killing 19 people.   But far from the scene of the attack, the staff of the Antwerp Zoo was closely monitoring Sofie the Okapi during her pregnancy.

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During Sofie’s pregnancy, which was her sixth, the zoo’s veterinary staff took advantage of her easygoing demeanor to learn all they could about her developing calf through frequent ultrasounds, hoping that the knowledge gained will improve captive Okapi breeding success.

Zoo breeding programs are more important than ever in light of the June attack.  Okapi are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Clearing of rain forest for agriculture and tropical hardwoods, mining, poaching and the political and socio-economic unrest in the region contribute to the Okapi’s uncertain future.

The Antwerp Zoo oversees the breeding program for Okapi in European zoos in an effort to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  Okapi are related to giraffes, as evidenced by their long tongues and long necks.  The bold stripes are unique to each Okapi, much like a person’s fingerprints.  These stripes provide ideal camouflage in their native jungle habitat.

Photo Credits:  Antwerp Zoo