The San Diego Zoo is very excited to announce the birth of one of the more unusual creatures in its collection: an okapi. On June 10, 2009, Safarani gave birth to her third offspring, a baby boy. At a month old, Sekele (meaning “secret”) is already weighing in at about 100 pounds (45 kilograms). An old pro at motherhood, Safarani is taking wonderful care of her young one. After nearly a month of being held in the “maternity yard,” mother and child have recently been introduced to their exhibit in the Zoo’s Lost Forest zone.
Sekele’s older sister, two year-old Sukari, and unrelated female Kelle were VERY interested in this new addition and spent a great deal of time at the “howdy” fence separating them. (Read a previous post about Sukari, Okapi Calf’s Big Adventure, Day One.) Soon, the fence will be removed and Sekele will be free to investigate the full enclosure as well as his new okapi family.
Once known as the “African unicorn”, the okapi was believed to be only a thing of myth. One of the more recent mammals to be discovered by Europeans, famed explorer Henry Stanley described it as a sort of donkey, and other Europeans who caught glimpses of its striped legs thought it to be some sort of forest zebra. The okapi, however, is the only living relative of the giraffe. Indeed, they share a lot of characteristics: an elongated neck, a lengthy tongue, and the males have ossicones (“horns”). Although not currently listed as an endangered species, the okapi lies precariously on that cliff. Living in a very isolated part of a single country in central Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo), they have a rather long gestation period, and their habitat is threatened by deforestation and human encroachment. Exact numbers in the wild are hard to come by because these creatures are so elusive, but it is estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000. In managed care facilities, there are roughly 60 individuals, 40 of which are in the United States.
Other recent additions to the Zoo’s okapi exhibit are Luke and Mae, a pair of black duikers, one of the smaller of the duiker species. But what they lack in size, these two more than make up for in personality!
Sekele is already showing some of the rambunctiousness of his father, Biscotti, who now resides at the Wild Animal Park (see post, Exciting Times at the Okapi Barn!). But I am working hard to make him as tractable as possible. It is paramount that we get him used to having his legs and feet, ears, and mouth handled by his keepers. The more we get him used to being handled, the more routine medical procedures we will be able to perform without the use of anesthesia. In the end, it will be much safer for him and much less stressful for us.
Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, One Pig, Happy Family.