Officially, he’s one in a hundred, but to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, he’s one in a million. A rare Okapi calf – a forest giraffe found only in Central Africa – was born on January 6, representing the first birth of the new year at the zoo and the first Okapi birth of the year in the North American population.
The now 3-week-old has grown to weigh 96 pounds (43.5 kgs) from his 64 pounds (29 kg) recorded at birth. Like most babies, he spends his days nursing, sleeping and following his mother around the barn. For the time being, he will “nest” in a suitable hiding spot identified by the mother, likely inside the barn. Hiding behavior is common and in the wild, providing protection from predators.
The pairing of parents Zack and Betty was recommended by the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP), managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to help ensure the survival of select wildlife species. Okapis are listed as Threatened, with continued loss of habitat and political unrest in their native region. The managed population grows slowly due to a lengthy gestation (approximately 14.5 months) and relatively high mortality rate.
Photo Credit: Lowry Park Zoo
Okapis have reddish-brown, velvet-like coats with horizontal zebra-like striping on their hindquarters and legs. The unique color pattern allows them to disappear into dense vegetation in the forests where they live. The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, but okapis have much shorter necks. These unusual animals also have large upright ears with a keen sense of hearing, and long, dark prehensile tongues that they use to pluck vegetation from trees and shrubs.
Continue reading much more about Okapis and conservation efforts for the species after the fold: