Today, October 18th, is the inaugural “World Okapi Day”, and there is no better way to celebrate than by announcing the arrival of a new Okapi calf!
In the early morning of October 1st, Zoo Basel welcomed their first Okapi birth in eleven years! The little bull calf, named Nuru, is the son of Mchawi. Keepers say he is a strong guy and has been exploring the indoor stables with great curiosity.
Nuru is the first male calf for mom, Mchawi. Born in 2011 at Antwerp, Mchawi has lived at Basel Zoo since 2014. The genetic basis of the EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) was very narrow for the Okapi. Zoo Basel decided a few years ago, in consultation with the EEP, to expand this base by importing new animals from the United States. At the end of this reshuffling, three animals found new homes at Zoo Basel: new mom, Mchawi, an eight-year-old bull Imba (who came from Dallas Zoo, US, in 2013), and five-year-old Ebony.
The hard work and efforts, of the EEP and cooperating Zoos, have paid off. Nuru seems to be a curious, courageous, and healthy calf. Keepers report that he sometimes skips naptime for jumping capers through the stables. It's too cold for the little guy to spend time in the outdoor exhibit, but when the temperatures warm, and Nuru is older, he will enjoy the outdoors as well. His current exhibit house is open for visitors, but they are asked to be patient. Nuru frequently withdraws for long periods of time to bond with his mom.
The breeding of the Okapi at Zoo Basel has a long history, with many interruptions. For the Zoo’s 75th anniversary in 1949, they received a bull from the Epulu-Breeding Station (in what was then known as the Belgian Congo). In the years 1955 and 1956 more animals came, and the first calf for the Zoo was born in 1960. After several decades of unsuccessful breeding attempts, a calf was born in 2005. The birth of Nuru has been an exciting boost to the Zoo’s efforts at helping to preserve this endangered species.
The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Although the Okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of Zebras, it is most closely related to the Giraffe. The Okapi and the Giraffe are the only living members of the family Giraffidae.
The Okapi stands about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall at the shoulder and has an average body length of about 2.5 m (8.2 ft). Its weight ranges from 200 to 350 kg (440 to 770 lb). It has a long neck, and large, flexible ears. Its coat is a chocolate to reddish brown, much in contrast with the white horizontal stripes and rings on the legs and white ankles. Male Okapis have short, hair-covered horns called ossicones, less than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length. Females possess hair whorls, and ossicones are absent.
Okapis are primarily diurnal but may be active for a few hours in darkness. They are essentially solitary, coming together only to breed. Okapis are herbivores, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi.
The gestational period for females is around 440 to 450 days, and usually a single calf is born. The juveniles are kept in hiding, and nursing takes place infrequently. Juveniles start taking solid food from about three months, and weaning takes place at six months.
Okapis inhabit canopy forests at altitudes of 500–1,500 m (1,600–4,900 ft). They are endemic to the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they occur across the central, northern and eastern regions.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classifies the Okapi as “Endangered”. Major threats include: habitat loss due to logging and human settlement. Extensive hunting for bushmeat and skin and illegal mining have also led to a decline in populations. The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 to protect Okapi populations.
**World Okapi Day was established, by the Okapi Conservation Project, to educate the public about an animal that most have never heard about—the Okapi. World Okapi Day was created to help bring awareness to this endangered species, and to share ways the organization is endeavoring to help protect this animal and to show the public how they can help too.
According to the organization: “Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) works in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect the natural habitat of the endangered okapi and indigenous Mbuti pygmies living in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Designated as a World Heritage Site, the Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse areas in all of Africa. Its model programs in sustainability and stewardship promote the viability of the region’s biodiversity and survival of native species like the okapi, which is under increasing threat from habitat destruction and illegal human activities.
OCP focuses on developing an economic and educational foundation on which the Okapi Wildlife Reserve can operate. This is achieved through programs in wildlife protection, alternative agriculture, and community assistance, and by working with the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), a government organization responsible for the protection of the Reserve. Support for OCP activities comes from a global network of zoos, conservation funds, and private donors.”
For more information, please see the OCP’s website: http://www.okapiconservation.org/