The San Diego Zoo is welcoming a new resident this month, after okapi mom Mbaya gave birth to her first calf—adding one more individual to a population that is in steady decline worldwide. Only a few zoos in the United States house the endangered okapi, and 3-week-old Mosi (pronounced MO-see), standing on wobbly legs and with an evident sense of curiosity, became the first okapi to be born at the San Diego Zoo in four years.
Animal care staff said Mosi—which is Swahili for first-born—is a robust little guy who exhibits many of the same personality traits as his mom, including a calm and easygoing demeanor. They said because of both okapis’ relaxed temperaments, staff is able to successfully provide necessary care, and the opportunity for both mom and baby to thrive.
“This is her first calf, and she is allowing us to interact with this calf because she trusts us,” said John Michel, senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “It was a relationship we had developed over a long period of time prior to this calf being born. And so, the relationship we have with her is the same relationship we have with the calf—very trusting.”
The okapi, the only living relative of the giraffe, is a large animal that lives in the Ituri Forest—a dense rain forest in central Africa, located in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Its zebra-like white-and-black striped hindquarters and front legs give the okapi added camouflage in the partial sunlight that filters through its rain forest habitat. The species is very cautious, and okapis use their highly developed hearing to alert them before humans can get close. In fact, while natives of the Ituri Forest knew of okapis, scientists did not know of the animal until 1900. Today, the Okapi is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, due to hunting and continued habitat loss.
San Diego Zoo Global, and other zoos and conservation organizations, work with local residents to protect and support this rare and unusual forest dweller in its native habitat. In 1992, one-fifth of the okapi habitat in the Ituri Forest was protected to create the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a World Heritage Site providing the species a place removed from most human interference.
Okapis first came to the San Diego Zoo in 1956, and since then, there have been more than 60 births at both the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Zoo guests can visit Mosi, his mom and the other okapis in their habitat along Hippo Trail in Lost Forest. Their exhibit is designed to let guests enjoy a good look at these beautiful animals without disturbing them.
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.