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Okapi Calf Born at Brookfield Zoo

An okapi calf was born May 16 at Brookfield Zoo. (Chicago Zoological Society)An okapi calf was born May 16 at Brookfield Zoo. (Chicago Zoological Society)

The giraffe family at Brookfield Zoo got a little bigger this month.

On May 16, 6-year-old mother okapi Augusta K gave birth to an okapi calf, giving the zoo another “forest giraffe,” as okapi are often called.

The addition marked the 28th okapi born at Brookfield Zoo since 1959, when it became the first zoo in North America to have a birth of the species.

The new calf is spending most of his time indoors but can be seen on a live video feed set up at the zoo’s “Habitat Africa! The Forest” exhibit. When the calf is about 3 months old, zoo visitors will be able to see him more regularly with his mom in their outdoor area, the zoo said.

Although the black-and-white stripes on their legs resemble zebras, okapi are relatives of the giraffe. In fact, okapi are the only other living member of the family Giraffidae.

Okapi use their zebra-like stripes to blend into the shadows of the forest, which helps them avoid predators even when they are only a few feet away. In the wild, an okapi calf spends most of its first two months alone and hidden in vegetation to protect it from predators. Despite growing from about 60 pounds to 120 pounds within its first month by processing its mother’s rick milk, an okapi calf does not defecate for 30 to 70 days, which makes it difficult for predators to locate them by smell.

Okapi are rare hoofed mammals native to the dense Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since American and European scientists discovered them in the early 1900s, okapi have become endangered because of civil unrest in the region, habit deforestation and illegal hunting.

Opaki’s decline prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to establish the Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group in 2013 to boost conservation efforts on behalf of both species. To assist in the international effort, the Chicago Zoological Society last year hosted the International Giraffid Conference at Brookfield Zoo.

The new calf is the second offspring for Augusta K and the calf’s sire, 21-year-old Hiari. The two were paired prior to 2015 based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Okapi Species Survival Plan. Such plans help conservationists manage the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining population that is genetically diverse and demographically stable.

Six-year-old mother okapi Augusta K gave birth to an okapi calf May 16 at Brookfield Zoo. (Chicago Zoological Society)Six-year-old mother okapi Augusta K gave birth to an okapi calf May 16 at Brookfield Zoo. (Chicago Zoological Society)

Follow Alex Ruppenthal on Twitter: @arupp

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