Conservationists at Chester Zoo are celebrating the birth of an endangered okapi calf – a rare animal also known as the forest giraffe.
The adorable calf was born to mum K’tusha (10) and dad Stomp (20) on May 12 where she has since been snuggled up in a nest in a behind-the-scenes area at the charity zoo.
Now, at just six weeks old, the leggy newcomer has kicked up her heels and taken her first steps outside, following some gentle encouragement from mum.
Zookeepers have revealed the calf to be female and named the newborn Arabi after a village located in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in central Africa – a place where the zoo’s conservation partners are working to preserve the species in the only country on the planet where they can be found.
Known for their elusive nature, the okapi lives in the dense rainforests in the DRC where it’s estimated that as few as 10,000 could remain. The species is classified as endangered by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning it faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
Chester Zoo and its partners in the DRC have been working to support the last remaining populations of okapi and zookeepers say the new arrival is a ‘vital’ part of the global population.
Hannah Owens, an okapi keeper at Chester Zoo, said:
“Since being born just six weeks ago, Arabi has been bonding closely with mum K’tusha while snuggled away in her nest. Mum has been doing a fantastic job of feeding and nurturing her calf every day, and now that she has a little more confidence, Arabi decided it was time to explore the outside world. It didn’t take long before she was confidently stretching her legs in the sunshine!
“Okapis are one of the least known and understood species on the planet, so every birth is incredibly special indeed. This energetic little calf is already showing lots of personality and it’s going to be a real privilege to watch her grow and become a vital part of the global population of her species.”
The okapi is often referred to as the ‘forest giraffe’ because the species is only living relative of the giraffe and their long necks and zebra-like stripes on their hindquarters act as camouflage in their rainforest habitat. Its shy and elusive nature meant the animal remained a mystery to many up until they were scientifically discovered in 1901.
Chester Zoo is part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the okapi, which aims to maintain a genetically diverse population in conservation zoos. Experts say the birth of the calf is an important addition to the programme, bringing invaluable insights into the lives of the secretive species.
Mike Jordan, Animal and Plant Director at the zoo, added:
“The arrival of this okapi calf is not only a cause for celebration but also a significant milestone in our ongoing commitment to the conservation and protection of this charismatic species. Through our continued efforts, we hope to inspire others to join us in safeguarding these remarkable creatures and their threatened habitats.
“The okapi is the national symbol for the DRC and is protected under Congolese law. However, habitat loss, hunting for their meat and prolonged periods of conflict in the country make conservation initiatives in the wild incredibly challenging and dangerous. But despite that, we’ve been supporting okapi conservation in the region for nearly 20 years and are now part of a global 10-year long project, in collaboration with the IUCN, to develop an action plan and investigate ways that we can help the last remaining populations thrive. We’ve been a long-term funder of the Okapi Conservation Foundation Project, located in the Ituri Forest in the DRC, which is reforesting important okapi habitat and helping to protect the existing populations and ensure their continued survival.”
In the wild commercial logging, open-cast mining, agriculture and human settlement has resulted in the loss of the okapi's habitat, which can limit their access to food and water sources. The animals are also hunted for their meat, which is consumed locally, and their skins which are highly valued on the illegal wildlife trade.
Of the 14 okapi living in conservation zoos in the UK, six are being cared for by experts at Chester Zoo as part of the endangered species breeding programme.