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Rare Baby Okapi Birth Celebrated at Lowry Park Zoo

Okapi cu

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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Okapi 2 wks

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:

Just discovered in the twentieth century, these large hoofed mammals are found in the rain forests of northern, central and eastern regions of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The species is a shy and reclusive forest dweller and is the only living relative of the giraffe. Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo provides annual support for to the Okapi Conservation Project founded to secure a protected area in the Ituri Forest region of the DRC for the Okapi and other native species. The goals of the project are to train and equip wildlife guards to protect the area from poachers, provide community assistance to people living around the reserve, educate people about sustainable use, and provide care for a breeding group of Okapi in the reserve. 

“Okapis represent a part of Africa that still has one of the world’s most intact wilderness areas,” said Craig Pugh, executivedirector/CEO.  “The Ituri Forest is home to a tremendous concentration of animal and plant species found nowhere else. The Ituri Forest, like forests along the Hillsborough River, protects watersheds and filters pollution from the air, benefitting all life on earth.  Work among zoos for Okapis and other species conservation is a vital part of global efforts to conserve the habitats on which their survival depends.”

There are a total of 106 individual Okapis living among 28 facilities accredited by the (AZA). About 10 calves are born each year, with 11 births recorded in 2012 and nine in 2011. 

“We are very pleased with the successful birth and are delighted that Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has contributed to the long term sustainability of this unique species,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of animal science and conservation. “The animal care staff has done an outstanding job managing these animals and implementing the husbandry guidelines to achieve this successful outcome.”