A rare okapi calf, a forest giraffe native to Central Africa, was born on September 24 at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo to experienced mother “Betty.”
Endangered Forest Dweller is One of Just 100 in North America
TAMPA, Fla. (October 8, 2015) – A rare okapi calf, a forest giraffe native to Central Africa, was born on September 24 at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo to experienced mother “Betty.” The yet-to-be-named newborn, a male, weighed in at 42 pounds and is the second successful okapi birth in the Zoo’s history (prior occurred in 2013).
The Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP), designed to support conservation of wildlife species at risk of extinction.
The managed population grows slowly due to a lengthy gestation (14-16 months). There are only 100 individual animals in North America, and an average of just four births each year.
“The okapi birth at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is only the third okapi calf born in the U.S. in 2015 and is an important addition to help sustain the okapi SSP population,” said Steve Shurter, AZA Okapi SSP Coordinator. “The Zoo helps educate visitors about this unique species and provides significant annual support, along with other zoo partners, to help conserve their rainforest home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).”
The now 2-week-old calf was able to stand within hours of birth, and spends his days nursing and “nesting” inside the barn. Hiding behavior is common and in the wild, providing protection from predators. Offspring typically remain in the nesting phase for about two months.
Just discovered in the 20th century, these large hoofed mammals are found in the rain forests of northern, central and eastern regions of the DRC. The species is a shy and reclusive forest dweller and is the only living relative of the giraffe. The wild population is in significant decline (50 percent in the last two decades) with continued loss of habitat and political unrest in their native region.
“We are very pleased with the successful birth and are delighted that Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has again contributed to the long term sustainability of this unique species,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, Chief Zoological Officer, Senior Vice President, and Zoo Director.
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.
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo provides annual support 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.