A shy okapi calf has made his début at Chester
Zoo – thanks to some gentle encouragement from his mum.
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
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
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
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.