Tampa, Florida -- Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo welcomed a rare okapi calf, a forest giraffe found only in Central Africa, on Jan. 6. The okapi calf was the first birth of the New Year at the Zoo and is the first okapi birth of the year in the North American population.
Photo Gallery: Rare okapi born at Lowry Park Zoo
Zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson says the now 3-week-old calf -- who has grown to 96 pounds from 64 at birth -- has been spending his days nursing, sleeping and following mother around the barn. For the time being, he will "nest" in a suitable hiding spot identified by the mother, likely inside the barn. The Zoo says hiding behavior is common and in the wild, providing protection from predators.
"We are very pleased with the successful birth and are delighted that Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo has contributed to the long-term sustainability of this unique species," said Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of animal science and conservation.
Just discovered in the 20th Century, these large hoofed mammals are found in the rain forests of northern, central and eastern regions of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The species is a shy and reclusive forest dweller and is the only living relative of the giraffe.
Okapis have reddish-brown, velvet-like coats with horizontal zebra-like striping on their hindquarters and legs. The unique color pattern allows them to disappear into dense vegetation in the forests where they live.
The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, but okapis have much shorter necks. These unusual animals also have large upright ears with a keen sense of hearing, and long, dark prehensile tongues that they use to pluck vegetation from trees and shrubs.
"Okapis represent a part of Africa that still has one of the world's most intact wilderness areas," said Craig Pugh, executive director/CEO. "The Ituri Forest is home to a tremendous concentration of animal and plant species found nowhere else. The Ituri Forest, like forests along the Hillsborough River, protects watersheds and filters pollution from the air, benefiting all life on earth. Work among zoos for okapis and other species conservation is a vital part of global efforts to conserve the habitats on which their survival depends."
Within the population of okapis there are a total of 106 individuals living among 28 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). About 10 calves are born each year, with 11 births recorded in 2012 and nine in 2011. The Zoo's calf is the first in 2013.
The calf also marks the third significant birth at the Zoo in as many months with the pygmy hippo born Nov. 15 and the African elephant born Dec. 23.
Info courtesy of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.