Okapi Zuri Grows Up

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Zuri enjoys an ear rub during a hoof trim.

How quickly time passes at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park! It seems as if just yesterday our young okapi, Zuri, was a wobbly little calf, but on June 17, he turned two years old. Our little guy is practically an adult now!

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 demonstrates the hoof jack.

Historically, okapis have needed general anesthesia to periodically have their hooves trimmed. We have patiently accustomed Zuri to all the tools used for hoof work and do minor work ourselves. Recently, we introduced him to a really neat tool called a hoof jack; it consists of a stand with a sling on top made of webbing that provides a place to rest his hoof so we can comfortably work on the foot without having to hold it up. Zuri seems to find this pretty comfy, too. Of course, his foot is not secured in any way, and he is free to put it down whenever he wishes. His reward for all this silliness is constant rubbing, scratching, and massages in all the right places!

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!