The Los Angeles Zoo is excited to announce the birth of its first-ever female okapi (pronounced oh-KAH-pea) calf born at the Zoo, a unique species often nicknamed the “forest giraffe.” The calf was born on Nov. 10, 2017 and is the second offspring for mother Opey, 14 years old, and the first for father Jackson, three years old. 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 currently unnamed calf spent the first couple of months behind the scenes bonding with mother and familiarizing herself with her new home and the animal care staff.
“I am thrilled to welcome this new Angeleno into the world, and congratulate the staff at the Los Angeles Zoo, and her mom, Opey, on the birth of this Okapi calf,” said District 4 Councilmember David Ryu. “This rare and beautiful animal is a testament to the Los Angeles Zoo’s incredible work caring for and fostering endangered animals.”
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. Over the last decade, the wild okapi population has dropped and there are estimated to be between 10,000 and 50,000 left in the wild. There are currently close to 100 okapi in U.S. AZA-accredited facilities.
“There was a time not so long ago when having okapis in a Zoo was extraordinarily rare,” said Josh Sisk, Curator of Mammals at the Los Angeles Zoo. “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.”
Native to central Africa, this reclusive species is rarely seen in the wild and were just discovered by Europeans in 1901. Because of their naturally shy nature and inclination to live deep in the dense forest, researchers and people passing through the area rarely spot an okapi in its native habitat. Observing this beautiful animal in a Zoological setting is most likely a person’s only opportunity to get up close to an okapi in their lifetime.
While some guests may confuse this shy, solitary animal with a zebra due to the brilliant black and white striped patterns on its front and hind legs, it is actually the closest living relative to the giraffe. The markings act as a kind of “follow me” sign so that offspring can stay close to their mothers in the dark central African forests they inhabit. The thick coat that covers most of the okapi’s body is velvety and very oily. The adult has a 14-18 inch long, prehensile tongue, stands at over six feet tall, and weighs between 400-700 pounds.
Guests can now view the female calf and her mother out in their habitat daily, weather permitting. The female calf brings the Zoo’s okapi group to four, including mother Opey, father Jackson, 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.
About the Los Angeles Zoo
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the landmark Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, drawing nearly 1.8 million visitors each year, is home to a diverse collection of 1,100 animals representing 250 different species, many of which are rare or endangered. Its lush grounds on 113 acres feature a botanical collection comprising over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. 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 Web site at www.lazoo.org.
About Species Survival Plan (SSP) Programs
An AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program strives to manage and conserve a select and typically threatened or endangered, ex situ species population with the cooperation of AZA-accredited institutions. SSP Programs develop a Breeding and Transfer Plan that identifies population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied population. There are currently nearly 500 SSP Programs, each managed by their corresponding Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs), within AZA.