The endangered Okapi is the symbol of Belgium’s Antwerp Zoo, and rightly so – the 50th Okapi calf to be born at the zoo arrived on December 27. Named Oni, this female calf is part of the zoo’s important Okapi breeding program, which began when the first Okapi arrived there in 1919.
Oni is the second calf to be born to female Hakima and is doing well, according to zoo staff. Like all Okapis, Oni has a unique pattern of stripes on her hindquarters. She joins a group of seven Okapi at the zoo, including her sister Mchawi, who was born in 2011.
Antwerp Zoo manages the worldwide studbook for Okapi and coordinates the European breeding program for the species. In this role, the zoo maintains data on every zoo-born Okapi in the world, reviews the data, and determines which pairings will result in the highest genetic diversity in any offspring. Efforts like this are crucial to the survival of the endangered Okapi, whose wild population has plummeted by 75% in the last decade.
There are currently 170 Okapi in zoos worldwide, but scientists estimate that 270 Okapi are needed to sustain a genetically healthy captive population. To reach this target, 13 Okapi births are needed each year for the next several decades
Closely related to Giraffes, only 10,000 Okapi survive in the dense rain forests of Africa’s Congo basin. Deforestation, hunting, and political instability threaten their future. The Antwerp Zoo supports an Okapi reserve that serves as a refuge for these animals.