ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — An important and rare event, a female okapi (oh-KOP-ee) calf was born at the Saint Louis Zoo on June 17, 2013. Umeme (oo-MAY-may), Swahili for “lightning,” can be observed most days (weather permitting) at the Zoo’s Red Rocks area near the camels.
Born to female Manala and male Jabari, the little female weighed 52.8 pounds at birth. Okapi calves are very fast-growing, and at one month of age, Umeme had already doubled her weight.
With a velvety dark striped coat, the okapi is one of the world’s rarest animals in captivity, with only 94 of these animals in 23 American zoos, including Umeme. One of the last mammals “discovered” by the scientific community in 1901, the okapi or “forest giraffe” is an animal so shy and secretive in the dense rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo that very little is known of its lifestyle in the wild, where its numbers are undetermined. Okapis are considered to be likely endangered due to both hunting and political crises in their native land.
The breeding of Manala and Jabari, resulting in Umeme’s birth, was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for okapi. The Saint Louis Zoo is a participant in this program, and for 22 years has supported the conservation of okapi ex situ (protecting a species outside its natural habitat) and in situ (in its natural habitat). The Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute, in close cooperation with Okapi Conservation Project and White Oak Conservation Center, the AZA Okapi SSP and many AZA partner institutions, supports the in situ okapi conservation efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 1992, the Saint Louis Zoo and WildCare Institute have provided more than $170,000 to okapi conservation in situ.
The Okapi Conservation Project was initiated in 1987 to secure a protected area for okapi in the wild, while preserving the biological and cultural dynamics of the Ituri Forest. This project provides support for training and equipping wildlife guards and lends community assistance (clean water, medical services, school supplies, etc.) to the people living next to the reserve. It also offers conservation education and care for managed breeding and research. To learn more about this program, visit okapiconservation.org.
The Saint Louis Zoo is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through September 2, 2013. Labor Day hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily resume September 3, 2013. Admission to the Zoo is free.