They call it Okapi love
Friday 7 July 2006
Join London Zoo’s new male okapi on his first date with our female.
London Zoo will be introducing a new male okapi to its female on Monday – and staff hope the pair will hit it off straight away.
Elila, our female okapi, already features as part of London Zoo’s new Into Africa exhibit, which opened in April.
This month Dicky arrived from Chester Zoo as part of the European breeding programme. Until now the pair have been getting used to the sight of each other from separate enclosures, but keepers hope their first proper date leads to the clatter of tiny hooves.
They will meet for the first time and enjoy a romantic “hearty” meal together – foliage shaped like a heart – on Monday.
Okapi, also known as forest giraffes, are elusive forest-dwellers that were only officially discovered by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – the charity which runs London Zoo – in 1901.
They have short velvety coats, elongated necks and a long, blue, tongue like their closest relatives, giraffes.
The young use their mother’s unique pattern of stripes on her hind quarters – similar to those of a zebra - to identify her.
Only found in the forests of central Africa, okapi (Okapia johnstoni) are threatened in the wild by habitat loss and the commercial bushmeat trade, which sees them routinely hunted for their meat.
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Notes to editors
Our two okapis will meet for the first time in front of the cameras, and be encouraged to share some heart-shaped foliage. Their enclosure, part of the new Into Africa exhibit, allows clear views across to the animals without bars or glass.
The only known living relative of the giraffe, rumours of a strange ass-like animal reached Sir Harry Johnston, British governor of Uganda, in the late 19th century, spurring him to make a journey into the Congo in 1899.
After hearing its description from the local people, Johnston was sure it was a kind of horse or zebra.
He later obtained a complete skin and a skull, which he sent to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in 1900, enabling our scientists to identify the new species in 1901 as a forest giraffe.
The tongue of an okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its own eyelids. It is also one of the few animals that can lick its own ears.
The Zoological Society of London runs a conservation programme called Bushmeat and Forests protecting vulnerable animals like okapi from the growing commercial bushmeat trade.
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org
London Zoo’s most ambitious project ever, Gorilla Kingdom, will open Easter 2007, bringing the forests of Central Africa to the urban jungle.
The £5.5million 1,500m2 development will provide an awesome natural habitat for our gorillas and give visitors the chance to get closer to these incredible animals.
For more information about Gorilla Kingdom contact Emma Kenly on 020 7449 6280
0207 449 6280