Super cute, endangered giraffe-like baby okapi born at ZooTampa

Published August 29 2018
Updated August 30 2018

A shy endangered animal that looks like a cross between a giraffe and zebra has given birth. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is puffed up and proud of the new parents and their part in easing the mother’s transition to a successful birth.

But first, look at that cute baby girl okapi (pronounced oh-COP-ee) with legs that look like they are sporting knee socks.

She was born to parents Betty and Zach, who arrived at the Tampa zoo in 2006 and are part of the Species Survival Plan of the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums.

These solitary chocolate brown animals with a face resembling a giraffe and zebra-like striped legs are native to the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where conflict and human encroachment have reduced their numbers to an estimated 10,000 to 35,000.

The okapi, sometimes called a forest giraffe, are the only living relative of the giraffe, and this birth "draws much-needed attention to a shy animal in desperate need of saving," a zoo news release said.

Veterinarians at the zoo tended to Betty’s prenatal care. That included regular ultrasounds, a high-energy diet and for the first time in this species, a milk-testing method found helpful in horses and rhinoceros to predict Betty’s calving date.

"By increasing Betty’s prenatal care, we saw physical changes that predicted calving," Ray Ball, vice president of medical sciences and senior veterinarian at ZooTampa said in a news release. "This included a dramatic change in her mammary glands and her hindquarters getting softer in preparation for the birth. The milk sampling also allowed us to determine her milk was good quality and helped us evaluate Betty’s overall health."

Although reticent by nature, Betty is quite comfortable with zookeepers and allowed them to collect milk samples used in the testing.

Zoo officials did not say when or if the calf can be viewed by zoo visitors.

"As a natural defense against predators, okapi mothers hide their calves away in nests. The calf will spend its time in the nest leaving only to nurse," said Chris Massaro, General Curator at ZooTampa at Lowry Park. "While guests eagerly await the calf to venture out into its habitat, we’ll post updates with pictures and videos on social media to share her progress."

At 2 years old, the age at which an okapi calf typically reaches maturity and naturally branches out on its own, the calf will likely move to a new home as part of the Species Survival Plan, zoo officials said. ZooTampa participates in the Okapi Conservation Project, an international effort to protect the species from extinction, as part of its mission to protect and conserve endangered and threatened wildlife.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.