This endangered animal may look like a cross between a giraffe and zebra but it is called an OKAPI. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is proud to be part of a successful birth though in captivity.
The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a mammal native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Okapis are herbivores, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi. They are unique in the Ituri Forest as they are the only known mammal that feeds solely on understory vegetation, where they use their 18 inch tongues to selectively browse for suitable plants.
The calf parents are named Betty and Zach and they have been at the Tampa zoo since 2006. They are part of the Species Survival Plan managed by the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums. The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 to protect remaining populations.
The okapi, sometimes called a forest giraffe, are the only living relative of the giraffe, and this birth “draws much-needed attention to a shy animal in desperate need of saving,” according to a zoo press release.
Veterinarians at the zoo tended to Betty’s prenatal care. “By increasing Betty’s prenatal care, we saw physical changes that predicted calving,” Ray Ball, vice president of medical sciences and senior veterinarian at ZooTampa said in a news release. “This included a dramatic change in her mammary glands and her hindquarters getting softer in preparation for the birth. The milk sampling also allowed us to determine her milk was good quality and helped us evaluate Betty’s overall health.”
Zoo officials did not say when or if the calf can be viewed by zoo visitors. “As a natural defense against predators, okapi mothers hide their calves away in nests. The calf will spend its time in the nest leaving only to nurse,” said Chris Massaro, General Curator at ZooTampa at Lowry Park. “While guests eagerly await the calf to venture out into its habitat, we’ll post updates with pictures and videos on social media to share her progress.”
At 2 years old, the age at which an okapi calf typically reaches maturity and naturally branches out on its own, the calf will likely move to a new home as part of the Species Survival Plan, zoo officials said.
About ZooTampa at Lowry Park
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in conservation, education, recreation and research. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is featured among the “Top 25 Zoos in the U.S” by TripAdvisor (2015). The Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa, and is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours for select events. Parking is free. For more, visit www.ZooTampa.org or call (813) 935-8552. Also, find the Zoo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.