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Photo Gallery | Lowry Park Zoo welcomes baby Okapi!

TAMPA, Fla. (January 21, 2013) – Officially, he’s one in a hundred, but to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, he’s one in a million. A rare okapi calf – a forest giraffe found only in Central Africa – was  born on January 6, representing the first birth of the New Year at the Zoo and the first okapi birth of the year in the North American population. The calf also marks the third significant birth at the Zoo in as many months (pygmy hippo born Nov. 15 and African elephant born Dec. 23).

Within the population of okapis there are a total of 106 individuals living among 28 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). About 10 calves are born each year, with 11 births recorded in 2012 and nine in 2011. The Zoo’s calf is the first in 2013.

The now 3-week-old calf (who has grown to 96 pounds from 64 at birth) spends his days nursing, sleeping and following mother around the barn. For the time being, he will “nest” in a suitable hiding spot identified by the mother, likely inside the barn. Hiding behavior is common and in the wild, providing protection from predators.

Just discovered in the 20th Century, these large hoofed mammals are found in the rain forests of northern, central and eastern regions of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The species is a shy and reclusive forest dweller and is the only living relative of the giraffe. 

“Okapis represent a part of Africa that still has one of the world’s most intact wilderness areas,” said Craig Pugh, executive director/CEO.  “The Ituri Forest is home to a tremendous concentration of animal and plant species found nowhere else. The Ituri Forest, like forests along the Hillsborough River, protects watersheds and filters pollution from the air, benefitting all life on earth.  Work among zoos for okapis and other species conservation is a vital part of global efforts to conserve the habitats on which their survival depends.”

The Zoo’s okapi pairing of adult male “Zack” and adult female “Betty” was recommended by the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP), managed by AZA to help ensure the survival of select wildlife species.  Okapis are listed as a threatened species, with continued loss of habitat and political unrest in their native region. The managed population grows slowly due to a lengthy gestation (approximately 14.5 months) and relatively high mortality rate.   

“We are very pleased with the successful birth and are delighted that Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has contributed to the long term sustainability of this unique species,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of animal science and conservation. “The animal care staff has done an outstanding job managing these animals and implementing the husbandry guidelines to achieve this successful outcome.”

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 for 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. 

The Zoo’s Ituri Forest habitat area, which houses the okapi exhibit, was made possible by funding provided by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.  The Zoo also acknowledges with gratitude the generous support of the L.V. Thompson Family Foundation in its sponsorship of the okapi exhibit.

Release courtesy of Lowry Park Zoo

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