Okapi

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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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.


Antwerp Zoo Welcomes 50th Okapi Calf

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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.

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Oni2Photo Credit:  © ZOO Antwerpen / Jonas Verhulst

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.


After a 28-year Wait, LA Zoo Celebrates First Okapi Calf

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More than 28 years of planning and preparation have paid off for the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens!  The zoo’s first-ever Okapi calf, born on August 26, made his public debut in November.

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Photo Credit:  Los Angeles Zoo

The zoo received its very first Okapi in 2005 after trying to obtain one for more than 20 years. Jamal, then 10 years old, came to the zoo from Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The zoo’s goal of obtaining a breeding pair was achieved in 2010 when a female, Baraka, arrived from Denver Zoo.

With black-and-white stripes, Okapis may look like zebras, but they are actually the closest living relatives of giraffes. Often called the “forest giraffe,” this shy, secretive Central African species has a lustrous, velvety coat, a 14-18-inch-long prehensile tongue.  Adults stand over six feet tall and weigh 400-700 pounds.

“This long-awaited birth is particularly special because it's the first Okapi we've ever had born here at the zoo,” said John Lewis, Los Angeles Zoo Director. “Being able to have a species like this breed in our zoo is a real testament to the hard work of the staff and their dedication to Okapi conservation.”

The Los Angeles Zoo works with The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP), a conservation group initiated in 1987 with the objective of eliciting support for the conservation of the wild Okapi from individuals, foundations, and zoological institutions managing Okapi around the world. The Okapi is an important flagship species for a rain forest habitat that is rapidly vanishing. Over the last decade, the wild Okapi population has dropped from 40,000 to 10,000, and there are currently only 85 Okapi in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos.


Dallas Zoo Welcomes 36th Okapi Calf

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The Dallas Zoo welcomed a healthy baby Okapi, born on August 14. Keepers have named her Almasi, the Swahili word for diamond. After a long 14-month gestation, Almasi weighed 47 pounds (21 kg) at birth, and is now up to 190 pounds (86 kg). When fully grown, she’ll stand more than 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder and weigh more than 700 pounds (317 kg). This past weekend, she made her debut at the zoo's outdoor Okapi habitat. 

Almasi is the second calf born to her mother, Desi, who is taking very good care of her little one. For now, both remain in their nesting stalls, although Almasi is getting more adventurous every day.  

“Almasi’s birth is another major success in efforts to ensure that this incredible animal species survives,” said Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., vice president of animal operations and welfare for the Dallas Zoo. “The Dallas Zoo has a long history of caring for and learning about Okapi, and we will continue to be a leader in the fight to educate the world to protect these animals.” Almasi is the 36th calf born in the zoo’s 50-year history of caring for this rare species.

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3 okapiPhoto credits: Cathy Burkey / Dallas Zoo

See a video of the playful calf:

 

Okapi (pronounced oh-KOP-ee) are a unique and mysterious animal, so elusive that they have been nicknamed the African unicorn. Their black-and-white striped legs and horselike bodies resemble a zebra, but the okapi is most closely related to giraffes. Like giraffes, their heads have large ears that give them keen hearing and their long prehensile tongues let them strip leaves and shoots from trees.

Okapi in the wild are found exclusively in the Ituri rain forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are difficult to see in the rain forest because of their striking camouflage. Because they’re very elusive and the Congo rain forest is so rugged, little is known about their behavior in the wild. However, researchers have found that their numbers are declining rapidly due to destruction of their rain forest home, despite their popularity in the African country. Okapi are even featured on the Congo’s 1,000-franc note.

“These animals have irresistible charm and behave unlike any other mammal,” said Megan Lumpkin, the Dallas Zoo’s lead keeper for the okapi. “They communicate using infrasound, a low-frequency sound undetectable to humans. It is critically important that they be protected.” 

Learn more about Okapi conservation after the fold.

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First Okapi Born in 25 Years in France at the Beauval Zoo

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The Beauval Zoo in France was thrilled to welcome Mbuti, the first Okapi born in France since 1988. Mbuti was born on June 27th to mother Kamina. Both are thriving, and Mbuti has since taken her first steps.

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Okapi are a unique mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in Central Africa. Though the animal bears stripes resembling those of a Zebra, it is far more closely related to the Giraffe. The species was unknown to the western world until the 20th century. Though the species is not Endangered, it remains Threatened due to habitat loss and poaching.

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Okapi Calf Shows Her Stripes at San Diego Zoo

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This 24-day-old female Okapi calf took her first stroll around her exhibit at the San Diego Zoo last week. She stepped out first thing in the morning with her mother, Safarani, who she stayed close to for most of the time. While she appeared a little tentative she was nevertheless still quite curious about her new surroundings. Okapis are naturally shy in the wild as well, relying on the thick foliage found in their environment to protect them from predators.

Born on May 19, she had up until that day been raised behind the scenes and out of public view in the Zoo's Okapi barn with her mom. The Animal Care staff report the calf is healthy and progressing well. In fact, she almost doubled her birth weight in a little over two weeks! This is the fourth calf born to Safarani and the 23rd okapi born at the San Diego Zoo.

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Photo Credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

Okapis look a little like they might be related to horses or deer and yet have some stripes as if they were part zebra, but are in fact a relative of the giraffe. They are native to the Ituri Forest, a small,dense rain forest in Central Africa. The species is Near Threatened, mainly due to habitat destruction. It is believed there are currently less than 25,000 Okapis in the wild and less than 90 Okapis reside in zoos across the United States. 


Rare Baby Okapi Birth Celebrated at Lowry Park Zoo

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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.   

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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:

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Another Okapi for Antwerp!

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The staff at Belgium's Zoo Antwerpen expected female Okapi Yenthe to deliver her baby on Christmas Day, but she had other plans.  At about 3:00 AM on December 16, the zoo’s night watchman alerted keepers when he noticed something unusual in the Okapi house.  Keepers were able to immediately see Yenthe and her new baby from their homes, using a web cam installed at the Okapi house. 

The male baby was named Ngwani, which means “child.”  He is the 49th Okapi born at Zoo Antwerpen since Okapi first arrived at the zoo in 1919.  There are currently eight Okapi at the zoo, including two other calves born in the last two years. 

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Zoo Antwerpen manages the international studbook for Okapi.  In this role, the zoo coordinates breeding recommendations for captive Okapi, with the goal of maintaining a genetically healthy population in zoos worldwide.

Okapi are found only in the dense rain forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo – nowhere else.  They are perfectly suited for life among the vegetation.  Only about 10-20,000 Okapi remain in the wild, and these are under threat from poaching, habitat loss, and ongoing conflict in the region.

Photo credit:  © ZOO Antwerpen / Jonas Verhulst


After tragedy, Okapi calf represents hope

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Following a devastating blow to Okapi conservation efforts this summer, a ray of hope arrived for this threatened species:  a healthy Okapi calf was born on September 15 at the Antwerp Zoo.

Conservationists were stunned when poachers raided the Okapi Wildlife Resrve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June, wiping out the entire breeding herd of 14 Okapi and killing 19 people.   But far from the scene of the attack, the staff of the Antwerp Zoo was closely monitoring Sofie the Okapi during her pregnancy.

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During Sofie’s pregnancy, which was her sixth, the zoo’s veterinary staff took advantage of her easygoing demeanor to learn all they could about her developing calf through frequent ultrasounds, hoping that the knowledge gained will improve captive Okapi breeding success.

Zoo breeding programs are more important than ever in light of the June attack.  Okapi are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Clearing of rain forest for agriculture and tropical hardwoods, mining, poaching and the political and socio-economic unrest in the region contribute to the Okapi’s uncertain future.

The Antwerp Zoo oversees the breeding program for Okapi in European zoos in an effort to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  Okapi are related to giraffes, as evidenced by their long tongues and long necks.  The bold stripes are unique to each Okapi, much like a person’s fingerprints.  These stripes provide ideal camouflage in their native jungle habitat.

Photo Credits:  Antwerp Zoo


Okapi Breeding Program Succeeding at Bronx Zoo

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A baby okapi was born this summer, at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo following more than a year of careful animal husbandry science by the zoo’s mammal curators. The calf, named M’bura, just made her public debut in the habitat. She'll be on exhibit intermittently as she adjusts to her sourroundings.

Upon birth, the mother and the calf are allowed time to bond. Unlike what would be normal practice for other ungulate species, a neonatal exam is not performed and the calf is not weighed because the species is very susceptible to stress.

Curators give the mother and calf plenty of room to encourage natural behaviors. In the wild, okapi females will leave their calves for long periods of time to feed and return only for short periods to nurse them. The female and calf spend relatively little time together.  For the first two months of its life the calf will spend about 80 percent of its time in its “nest” area. Okapi calves start sampling solid foods by three weeks of age and are usually weaned by the time they are six months old. At the Bronx Zoo, this new calf will slowly transition to a diet of leaves, alfalfa hay, specially formulated pelleted grain, and produce.

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher

 

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