Image: © Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Mourn the Passing of Okapi Calf


The Animal Facts Editorial Team


June 2, 2023 9:31 pm


Louisiana, The United States

Audubon Nature Institute have shared the sad news that okapi calf Kaya born at the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center eight months ago has passed away. The calf was undergoing treatment for a severe developmental issue that affected her growth plates, bones, and joints in multiple legs. Despite extensive efforts animal care experts determined that the issues would not resolve and made the difficult decision to humanely euthanise her.

Animal care teams from Audubon had worked alongside orthopedic specialists at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and national okapi experts to diagnose and improve her condition.

“We always strive to give the best quality of life to all the animals under our care,” said Michelle Hatwood, General Curator of the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center.  “Kaya’s situation was especially heart-breaking for the staff that cared for her. Very few okapi births occur each year, so we are saddened for her loss and the loss to the national population.”

Staff that worked with Kaya described her as curious and tenacious, even while her body was failing her. “She was strong-willed and wanted to be independent, even at a young age,” said Jennifer Cain, her primary caregiver.  Staff that cared for Kaya had become very close to the young animal through her treatments, health challenges, and are mourning her loss.

Kaya was both the first calf for her 6-year-old mom Asili, and 13-year-old dad, Kikari along with being the first okapi born at the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center. Okapi calves are recorded as having a high mortality rate among first time mothers but Asili had taken to her mothering role well.

Kaya’s health problems took a couple months to become apparent. “At this time, we don’t know why Kaya was suffering these developmental limb deformities. We know her joints were impacted and it was painful for her to walk,” said Audubon Nature Institute Senior Veterinarian Dr. Bob MacLean.  “While we were able to make her more comfortable, she was not growing properly, and her condition was progressively worsening. It was a particularly difficult decision to euthanize her given how rare okapi are.”

Vets at the facility undertook a necropsy (animal autopsy) and findings from this may help experts better understand okapi anatomy and physiology and offer new options to treat other animals that may develop similar conditions.

Okapis are naturally found in Central Africa where they are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Little study has been conducted in to their natural history due to their elusive nature and dense forest habitat.

Audubon Mourn Passing of Okapi Calf

Image: © Audubon Nature Institute

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Looking like a strange mix between the giraffe and the zebra, unlock the mysteries of the okapi with our fact file.

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When an okapi walks through an area they distribute a sticky substance from a scent gland on each leg. This marks their territory and allows other okapi to track them.

Image: © Audubon Nature Institute

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