Rare Okapi Calf Nursed to Health at Denver Zoo
December 17, 2017
Denver Zoo welcomed a rare baby Okapi on December 4. The male calf, named Forest, was born to mother Kalispell and weighs just under 40 pounds. The calf is only the seventh birth of this species at the Zoo.
“Shortly after he was born, Zoo staff noticed that Forest was unable to stand and was therefore unable to nurse,” said Brian Aucone, Senior Vice President for Animal Sciences. Forest’s blood work showed that had not received vital antibodies from his mother and that he needed a plasma transfusion. The team asked the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to overnight plasma for the new calf.
“We are very proud of the training that allows us to do voluntary blood draws with our Okapi and other species,” said Patty Peters, Vice President Community Relations at Columbus Zoo. “We all want to see Forest healthy and are thankful we could give aid in this way.”
Forest’s plasma transfusion was successful, and he is now strong enough to nurse on his own. He will remain behind the scenes for several weeks as he continues to develop and is prepared to step outside on warm winter days.
Forest is the second calf for both of his parents. Sekele, Forest’s father, was born in June 2009 at San Diego Zoo and arrived at Denver Zoo in November 2010. Kalispell (Kali, for short) was born at Denver Zoo in June 2009. Sekele and Kali were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Their first calf, Jabari, was born at Denver Zoo in February 2014. In 2016, he moved to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo by recommendation of SSP.
Okapis are the only living relative of Giraffes. In addition to a long neck, Okapis have a reddish coat, black-and-white striped legs and a 12-inch-long, purple prehensile tongue. Adult Okapis weigh 500 to 700 pounds and stand about five feet tall at the shoulder. Females are generally larger than males. Okapis’ gestation period is 14 to 15 months.
Native only to the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Okapis are seriously threatened by political unrest in their native range. Population estimates are difficult to determine because the forest is so dense, but experts believe there are between 10,000 and 50,000 individuals, and their numbers are declining. Okapis are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Additional threats come from habitat loss and hunting.
This rare species was first discovered only about 100 years ago. Very little is known about the behavior of the Okapi in its native land due to its shy, elusive nature. Much of what is known has been learned in zoos during the past 45 years.