An Okapi calf was born at Brookfield Zoo on May 16. He has access to the outside, but is currently spending the majority of his time indoors in a nesting site with his 6-year-old mother, Augusta K. When the calf is about 3 months old, visitors will have a chance to see him more regularly in the Okapi’s outdoor area. When not visible outside, guests can view a live video feed that will be set up in the zoo’s “Habitat Africa! The Forest”.
In the wild, an Okapi calf will spend most of its first two months alone and hidden in vegetation to protect it from predators. The mom will return to the nesting site only to nurse her calf. Her nutritiously rich milk helps the young animal double its starting weight of about 60 pounds to nearly 120 pounds within its first month. Calves process their mother's milk very efficiently, and they do not defecate for 30 to 70 days, which makes it difficult for predators to locate them by smell.
The new calf marks the 28th Okapi born at Brookfield Zoo. In 1959, Brookfield was the first zoo in North America to have a birth of this species.
The pairing of mom, Augusta K, and the calf’s sire, 21-year-old Hiari, was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP). An SSP manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining breeding population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. This is the second offspring for the pair. Their last calf, also a male, was born in 2015.
Often referred to as “forest giraffes,” Okapi’s closest relative is the giraffe. They have creamy white stripes on their hind end and front upper legs and white “ankle stockings” on their lower legs. The stripes help them blend into the shadows of the forest and make them very difficult to see, even when they are only a few feet away. Scientists speculate that Okapi’s contrasting stripes are important for calf imprinting and act as a signal for a newborn to follow close behind its mother.
Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) are rare hoofed mammals native to the dense Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). American and European scientists discovered them in the early 1900s.
The species is classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN, due to civil unrest in the region, habitat deforestation, and illegal hunting. In 2013, the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established the Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG) to strategize and coordinate research and conservation efforts on behalf of both giraffid species. To assist in these efforts, in May 2016, the Chicago Zoological Society hosted the International Giraffid Conference at Brookfield Zoo. The four-day event brought together animal care professionals from around the world to network, learn, and share knowledge with specialists, curators, veterinarians, researchers, and conservationists.