The first female okapi born at the Los Angeles Zoo made her debut on Tuesday.
Okapi are a close relative to the giraffe and have a distinctive striped coat. The species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List of endangered species.
The calf was born on Nov. 10 and is the second offspring for mother Opey, 14, and the first for father Jackson, 3. The couple was paired together as part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) program with the goal of increasing the okapi population which is rapidly declining in the wild. The unnamed calf spent her first couple of months of life behind the scenes bonding with her mother and familiarizing herself with her new home and the zoo’s animal care staff.
“There was a time not so long ago when having okapis in a zoo was extraordinarily rare,” Josh Sisk, the L.A. Zoo’s curator of mammals, said in a news release. “But due to Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs being so proactive and being able to breed these animals in zoos, the captive population is doing extremely well. This is just one example of how important zoos are for helping sustain such an endangered species. By guests being able to see an okapi in a zoo, it starts a conversation about how we can save this species and their habitat in the wild.”
The okapi, also called the “forest giraffe,” is native to central African forests. Okapi have a thick, velvety coat with a black and white striped pattern on its front and back legs. An adult okapi has a 14- to 18-inch prehensile tongue, weighs between 400 and 700 pounds and stands over six feet tall. Zookeepers keep the okapi entertained with puzzle feeders, games and exercise.
The Los Angeles Zoo contributes funds to The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP), a conservation group initiated in 1987 with the objective of eliciting support for the conservation of wild okapi from individuals, foundations and zoological institutions managing okapi around the world. The okapi is an important flagship species for the rainforest habitat that is rapidly vanishing due to expansion of human settlement, deforestation, and forest degradation, officials said. Over the last decade, the wild okapi population has dropped to an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. There are close to 100 okapi in U.S. AZA-accredited facilities.
Sisk explained that the L.A Zoo’s okapi are ambassadors for the specifies and hopes they will help increase public awareness and conservation efforts.
“Okapi are a very unique animal — one that you rarely see in the wild,” Sisk said. “She’s a very shy animal but very playful too.”
Guests can now view the female calf and her mother in their habitat daily, weather permitting. The female calf brings the zoo’s number of okapi to four, including its mother and father and a four-year-old male okapi born in August 2013 named Berani. Berani was the first calf ever born at the L.A. Zoo since okapi were added to the zoo’s collection in 2005.
The zoo is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $21 for adults and $16 for children ages 2 to 12. The zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo website at www.lazoo.org.