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06 02/06/2015

Usala the okapi calf makes his debut

  • Okapi
  • New arrivals
  • Mammals

A shy okapi calf has made his first appearance – thanks to some gentle encouragement from his mum.

The month-old youngster, named Usala, stepped out for the first time after emerging from his nest area.

But it took some steady persuasion from mum Stuma as okapis, and calves in particular, are notoriously elusive. Indeed the species, which is an unusual African animal that is the closest-living relative to the giraffe, was not even known to science until the early 20th century.


Keeper Fiona Howe said:

Okapis are rather secretive animals and, up until now, Usala has been out of the spotlight, cozied up in his nest. But thanks to the support of mum Stuma, he’s now starting to explore.

A trademark of the okapi is the stripy markings on their legs; designed to help offspring follow them through deep forest. And that’s exactly where you’ll tend to see Usala - sticking closely to his mum’s legs as she moves around foraging for food.

Stuma is an excellent mum and she’s doing a great job of helping her new charge gain confidence on his legs. She can often be seen offering him an affectionate nuzzle as reassurance that he’s doing well.

Usala’s arrival is an important boost to the breeding programme for the endangered animals, increasing the number of okapis in zoos in the UK to 14.

In the wild the species can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where their numbers are in decline due to habitat loss and hunting for their meat.

Chester Zoo is working with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) giraffe and okapi specialist advisory group to develop a conservation strategy for okapis and also supports the DRC Wildlife Authority and their efforts to protect the species in the Ituri Forest in the DRC.


Okapi facts

  • Mum: Stuma
  • Dad: Dicky
  • Calf: Usala
  • Born: 30/04/2015 after a 14-and-a-half-month-long pregnancy
  • Info: This is only the second okapi ever born at Chester Zoo following Tafari, a female, born in 2012
  • The okapi is a totally protected species under Congolese law and the species is a national symbol
  • Okapi are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are the closest-living relatives of the giraffe and were not known to science until 1901
  • Only males have horns. Females tend to be a bit taller than males
  • A single calf is born after a 14-15 month pregnancy
  • Giraffe and okapi are the only living species in the Giraffidae family and share a number of common features, such as elongated necks and long, dark-coloured tongues (both adaptations for feeding on tree leaves). The giraffe is found in savannah regions of 21 countries across sub-Saharan Africa while okapi are restricted to the dense, lowland rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Chester Zoo supports the DRC Wildlife Authority through Gilman International Conservation Foundation's Okapi Conservation Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Okapi live in the beautiful Ituri Forest. Zoo staff are also contributing technically to the IUCN Giraffe and Okapi specialist advisory group to develop an Okapi conservation strategy.
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