Merry Christmas and Okapi New Year
Thursday 20 December 2001
Christmas has come early for London Zoo, bringing everyone the chance to come and see the beautiful okapi calf just born at the Zoo
This birth is extra special as it coincides with the anniversary of the species' discovery - only 100 years ago in 1901.
Very little is known about this species; this majestic animal, related to the giraffe, is very striking in appearance, with black and white striped legs reminiscent of a zebra, coupled with a gleaming brown velvet coat. The males possess short, skin-covered horns, similar to those of the giraffe. Due to the late discovery of the species and their secretive nature, little is known about their behaviour in the wild.
The newborn calf, named Jemima by her keepers, is seven-weeks-old and is a welcome addition to the group: her mother, Elila and her father, Rubani. Jemima, who weighs approximately 50kg and stands at 3-feet high, is staying very close to mum and she is likely to suckle for up to 10 months. She will not be fully developed until 4 or 5 years of age, when she will reach about 6-feet in height.
Jemima is thriving, and is being fed on a diet of clover, bran, oats, dairy pellets and finely chopped vegetables to supplement the suckling that mum Elila is willingly providing.
Gerald Asher, Head keeper of the Cotton Terraces comments: "It's very exciting for all of us, okapi are difficult to breed successfully in captivity, and Elila is proving to be a wonderful first time mum. We have been keeping a watchful eye on them both, using CCTV, and they have been left undisturbed until today."
It has been a long wait for London Zoo to mark the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of this species, as the gestation of an okapi is 14 months. Found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central Africa, the forest dwelling relation of the giraffe was only discovered in 1901 by the then Special Commissioner of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston. It was then officially described and named Okapia johnstoni at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in that same year.
Nick Lindsay Senior Curator of ZSL said: "This marks a real achievement not only for London Zoo, but for the conservation of this beautiful species. Although listed as near threatened by the IUCN red list, this species is becoming increasingly endangered due to habitat destruction and unrest within the DRC." Lindsay continues: "Despite this, a concerted effort, supported by ZSL, is being made within the DRC to safeguard the species' future."
For further Information please contact the Public Relations Office of the Zoological Society of London:
Joe Laing 020 7449 6236
Peter Beatty 020 7449 6361
Debbie Curtis 020 7449 6363
Fax: 020 7449 6362
Notes to Editors:
- Elila was born at Marwell Zoo in 1997, and came to London Zoo in 1999
- Rubani was born in Basle Zoo, Switzerland in 1994 and came to London Zoo in 1996 as part of the European Breeding Programme
- There are currently 50 okapis within the European Breeding Programme
- An okapi's tongue is so long it can clean its own eyes and eyelids
- Okapis usually give birth to one offspring at a time.
- The okapi's diet in the wild consists of buds, shoots and leaves
- IUCN - World Conservation Union.
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