An okapi, or “forest giraffe,” has been born at the Brookfield Zoo. The male calf known as Will was born to mother Augusta K on April 21. This is Augusta’s first calf. Currently held off exhibit the calf is only viewable through a video feed set up at Habitat Africa! The Forest.
He will spend most of his first few months in hiding. Mothers in the wild naturally hide their calves in a protected nesting site which helps hide it from predators. It will be about 3 months before he begins to venture into his outside habitat.
Unfortunately this secretiveness has not saved themed from persecution. Found in the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this species is under threat due to habitat loss, human settlement, mining, war and political instability along with the bush meat trade.
During March 2013 the Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG) of the IUCN Species Survival Plan was established. It is aiming to strengthen international support for halting the decline of okapis and giraffes in Africa.
Breeding and conservation efforts are integral to the survival of this shy species. Brookfield Zoo bred the first okapi born in a US zoo in 1959 and has followed this with 27 successful births. They also helped to establish the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) in 1982. This program aims to create a genetically diverse and demographically stable breeding population in zoos.
Currently 90 okapi live in 23 American institutions. More are spread across South Africa, Europe, Japan and the United Arab Emirates which are part of the breeding project.
The shyness of okapis contributed to them not being discovered till the early 1900s. Luckily calves have no problems finding their mothers in the forest. Scientists believe that the contrasting white stripes on their hind legs signal the calf to follow close behind its mother.
Photo Credits: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society