At 11.55 p.m. on Sunday 10 July 2022, a baby okapi was born at Basel Zoo. Toka’s birth has been the source of great excitement: he is only the fifth forest giraffe calf to be raised at Basel Zoo in over 20 years.
The new son of mother Ebony (10) and father Imba (15) is called Toka. The small bull is strong and curious. Immediately after he was born in the night between Sunday 10 and Monday 11 July 2022, he stood up on his shaky but stocky little legs and went in search of milk. Now, at 11 days old, Toka is in the best of health and is feeding regularly. After Quenco, who was born in 2019, Toka is okapi cow Ebony’s second successful birth. Her first calf came too early in 2017 and was stillborn.
Good things come to those who wait
Okapi calves are hiders. The young animals spend their first few weeks lying down away from their mothers, only standing when they are called to drink. In the wild, this reduces the chance of the calves being found by a predator, as young okapis – unlike the adults – have not yet developed their own scent. This ‘hiding’ behaviour is also why visitors to the zoo will have to be patient for the first few weeks to catch a glimpse of Toka. He sleeps lot and spends a lot of time hidden amongst the straw. When Toka needs a bit more peace and quiet, he can also retreat back into the stall. But good things come to those who wait: young okapis have a wonderful stripy pattern around their eyes. This sign of youth disappears as the okapi grows up. They also have a small white patch on their black-and-white front legs that will grow bigger with age. Toka can be seen in the antelope house in the afternoon. In the morning, the house remains closed to visitors.
Basel Zoo is keeping the gene pool healthy
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, their natural habitat, forest giraffes are endangered as a result of civil wars and starvation. Their population is estimated to be around 10,000 animals. It is therefore even more important to have a healthy zoo population: as there was a poor genetic base in the EAZA ex-situ programme (EEP, the breeding programme of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria), Basel Zoo and the Belgian managers of the okapi EEP decided some years ago to import genetically valuable animals from the Species Survival Plan (SSP) in the USA. This is how the okapi bull Imba, originally from Dallas and also Toka’s father, came to call Basel Zoo home in 2013. As a way of promoting sustainable nature and species conservation in the okapis’ natural habitat, Basel Zoo also supports the Okapi Conservation Project, and has done so for more than 30 years. You can find out more about the project here: https://www.zoobasel.ch/en/tiere/naturschutzprojekte/3/okapis-in-der-demokratischen-republik-kongo.
Image credits: Photo: Basel Zoo, www.zoobasel.ch