05 25/05/2018

Endangered okapi born at Chester Zoo

Conservationists at Chester Zoo are celebrating the birth of a rare okapi.

  • “Precious” calf arrives to five-year-old mum, K’tusha
  • Zookeepers name new male arrival Semuliki
  • Conservationists hail newborn as a huge boost to the breeding programme for the highly threatened species
  • The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe
  • Amazing animals were only discovered in 1901
  • Zoo experts are working in Africa to help assess and monitor key populations of this elusive rainforest giraffe
The male calf, which keepers have named Semuliki, arrived to first-time mum K’tusha (5) following a pregnancy of almost 15-months. It is the first calf at Chester for dad Stomp (14).

Despite its zebra-like stripes on its back legs and hindquarters, the okapi is actually the closest and only living relative to the giraffe. Its camouflage, acute sense of hearing and secretive nature contributed to it being unknown to science until 1901.

Partially striped and cute all over! A rare okapi calf has been born at Chester Zoo to first-time mum K’tusha.

The okapi is found only in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where, despite being a national symbol and protected under Congolese law, it faces a battle for survival.

Okapi populations declined in the wild by nearly 50% over the past two decades and the species is now listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Tim Rowlands, Curator of Mammals at Chester Zoo, said:

With just 68 okapi in zoos in Europe, the safe arrival of this calf is a huge boost to the breeding programme for the species. K’tusha is proving to be a very relaxed and attentive mum to her first little calf.

And vitally, the birth serves an important reminder of just how highly endangered these beautiful animals are.

For a long time, their shy nature and their isolation in the deep forests of the DRC had kept the okapi safe. However, today, they are highly threatened by hunting and increasing levels of habitat destruction. Our conservation efforts are now vital for their long-term future.

Conservationists are currently unsure of exactly how many okapi remain in the wild but zoo experts are playing a key part in surveying the species in the wild in a bid to discover more about the shy animals.

Mike Jordan, Collections Director, added:

The biggest current threat to the okapi is hunting due to the presence of illegal armed groups and a growing bushmeat trade across nearly all of the okapi’s range. This insecurity is a major hurdle to effective conservation action in most areas.

A heart-breaking example of this was in June 2012 when armed rebels attacked the headquarters of a reserve that the zoo supports - the Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR) in the DRC’s Ituri forest – tragically killing seven people and the 15 okapi being cared for at the station. However, we won’t give up on these wonderful animals and Chester Zoo continues to fight for the species. We support our partners the Okapi Conservation Project and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, despite these difficult and dangerous conditions, to protect the OFR, a major stronghold for the species.

Along with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and with the support of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, zoo experts have recently led surveys looking for okapi in the Semuliki National Park, Uganda on the border with DRC.

Stuart Nixon, the zoo’s African Field Programme Coordinator and member of the IUCN’s Giraffe and Okapi specialist advisory group, added:

We are also supporting rural communities in the Maiko region of DRC to monitor and conserve okapi populations which occur in their ancestral forests outside of protected areas. Together with our partners, Chester Zoo is striving to ensure there’s a future for these beautiful, gentle creatures.
Okapi facts
  • The new calf at Chester Zoo was born on 27/04/18
  • Zookeepers have named him Semuliki  
  • Okapis are one of the oldest mammals left on Earth
  • Despite its long existence, its discovery was only announced by scientists in 1901
  • It is a national and cultural symbol of the Democratic Republic of Congo (where it lives in dense, lowland forests)
  • The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe
  • Male okapis have short horns on their foreheads that are covered in skin and called ossicones
  • They have scent glands on each foot that leave behind a tar-like substance to mark their territory
  • They can lick their own ears! The okapi’s tongue measures between 14 and 18 inches long – that’s long enough to clean its ears and wash its eyelids
  • Chester Zoo also supports the Okapi Conservation Project that is based at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve where camera trap technology is allowing the team to learn more about okapi behaviour