A recital of his accomplishments to date seems in order. As one of the few halter-trained okapis in the world, he has broken new ground in the field of okapi husbandry. (See Exciting Times at the Okapi Barn.)
Zuri has become extremely trusting of his regular keepers. In general, if we ask something of him, he tries to oblige. We have always been very careful not to ask anything unreasonable of him. Case in point: our Reproductive Physiology Division is exploring the possibility of collecting semen from him for possible artificial insemination use. This would require training him to stand with his front feet on an elevated platform. We decided that hay bales with rubber matting on top would be about the right height. As we led him up to this strange thing for the first time, he sniffed it and then looked at us as if to say “Now what?” Just for the heck of it, we asked him to step up, and up he went! He held the pose until we asked him to get down. Needless to say, he got the rubdown of his life! The same thing happened when he saw a trailer for the first time: even though the step up was kind of high, he followed me in on the first try. We’re so proud of our boy!
At two years of age, Zuri is considered sexually mature. He has been selected to breed with three females in the future. I hope his offspring will all be as wonderful as he is!
Marcia Redding is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Read her previous post, A New Okapi!