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Okapi Bonds with Mom at Denver Zoo

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Denver Zoo has announced the birth of a rare Okapi! The male calf, named Jabari (Jah-bar-ee), was born to mother, Kalispell (Kal-lis-pell), and father, Sekele (seh-Kee-lee), on February 3. He is only the sixth birth of his species at the zoo. Jabari will remain behind the scenes for a little while longer, but visitors will soon be able to see the youngster as he grows and becomes more self-sufficient.

Jabari, Swahili for 'brave', is the first birth for both of his parents. Sekele and Kalispell were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Kalispell was born at Denver Zoo in 2009 and was actually the Zoo’s last okapi birth prior to Jabari. Sekele was born in 2009 at the San Diego Zoo and arrived at Denver Zoo in 2010. 

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3 okapiPhoto credit: Denver Zoo

This rare species was only first described by science about 100 years ago. Very little is known about the behavior of the Okapi in the wild due to its shy, elusive nature. Much of what is known has been learned in zoos in the past 45 years. 

Okapis look like a cross between zebras and giraffes. In fact, the species is the closest living relative to the giraffe. In addition to long necks, okapis have reddish bodies, black-and-white striped legs and 12-inch, purple, prehensile tongues. Adult okapis weigh between 500 and 700 pounds (about 227 to 318 kg) and stand approximately five feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder. Females are generally larger than males. The Okapi’s gestation period is between 14 and 15 months.

Native only to the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), survival of the Okapi is seriously threatened by unsettled political conditions and rebel military actions in that part of the DRC. Wild population estimates for the species are extremely difficult to determine because the forest is so dense, but scientists believe there are between 10,000 and 50,000 individuals. Their numbers are believed to be declining, and Okapis are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Additional threats come from habitat loss and hunting.