An Okapi calf recently made his public debut at Chester Zoo, in the UK.
The youngster, named Usala, was born April 30th to parents, Stuma and Dicky. Okapi calves are notoriously elusive, and Usala’s first public outing required some steady persuasion from mum Stuma.
Keeper, Fiona Howe said, “Okapis are rather secretive animals. Up until now, Usala has been out of the spotlight, cozied up in his nest. But thanks to the support of mum Stuma, he’s now starting to explore.”
“A trademark of the Okapi is the stripy markings on their legs; designed to help offspring follow them through deep forest. And that’s exactly where you’ll tend to see Usala - sticking closely to his mum’s legs as she moves around foraging for food. Stuma is an excellent mum, and she’s doing a great job of helping her new charge gain confidence on his legs. She can often be seen offering him an affectionate nuzzle as reassurance that he’s doing well,” Fiona continued.
Usala’s arrival is an important boost to the breeding programme for the endangered animals, increasing the number of Okapis in UK zoos to 14. This is only the second Okapi ever born at Chester Zoo. Tafari, a female, was born in 2012.
The Okapi, also known as the “forest giraffe”, is a rare hoofed mammal, native to the dense Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are closely related to the Giraffe, and along with their long-necked cousin, they are the only living members of the family Giraffidae. American and European scientists did not discover the species until the early 1900s. Because of the Okapi’s elusiveness, little has been known about their behavior in the wild, including how they raise their calves.
Okapis are herbivores, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi. Females become sexually mature when about one-and-a-half years old, while males reach maturity after two years.
After successful mating, there is a gestational period of around 440 to 450 days, which results, usually, in the birth of a single calf. Only male Okapi have horns, and females are commonly a bit taller than males.
Okapis are currently classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Population numbers of Okapi, in the wild, have been declining and are predicted to continue on this downward trend due to habitat loss, human settlement, mining, war and political instability in these animals’ region, and the bushmeat trade.
Chester Zoo is working with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Giraffe and Okapi specialist advisory group to develop a conservation strategy for Okapis. Chester Zoo also supports the DRC Wildlife Authority and their efforts to protect the species in the Ituri Forest in the DRC.
More amazing pics and video, below the fold!