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Denver Metro

Zoo sees birth of endangered okapi

Plasma transfusion needed to care for struggling animal


A rare okapi (oh-Kah-pee) calf was born Dec. 4 at the Denver Zoo. The seventh birth of his species at the zoo, Forest weighed just under 40 pounds.

“Shortly after he was born, zoo staff noticed that Forest was unable to stand and was therefore unable to nurse,” Brian Aucone, senior vice president for animal sciences, said in a news release. “Our team took swift action to get the calf back on the path to health, and I'm happy to say he's getting stronger each day.”

Based on blood work changes, veterinarian Betsy Stringer determined that Forest had not received vital antibodies from his mother and that he needed a plasma transfusion. She recruited the help of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to overnight plasma for the new calf.

“We are very proud of the training that allows us to do voluntary blood draws with our okapi and other species,” said Patty Peters, vice president community relations at Columbus Zoo. “We all want to see Forest healthy and are thankful we could give aid in this way.”

Forest's plasma transfusion was successful, and he is now strong enough to nurse on his own. Hewill remain behind the scenes for several weeks as he continues to develop and is prepared to step outside on our nicer winter days. When ready, he will be in the okapi yard near Toyota Elephant Passage.

Forest is the second birth for both of his parents.

Sekele, Forest's father, was born in June 2009 at San Diego Zoo and arrived at Denver Zoo in November 2010. Kalispell (Kali, for short) was born at Denver Zoo in June 2009. Sekele and Kali were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Their first calf, Jabari, was born in February 2014 at Denver Zoo and was moved to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in 2016.

Okapis look like a cross between zebras and giraffes. In fact, the species is the only living relative to the giraffe. In addition to long necks, okapis have reddish bodies, black-and-white striped legs and 12-inch, purple, prehensile tongues. Adult okapis weigh between 500 and 700 pounds and stand approximately five feet tall at the shoulder. Females are generally larger than males. The okapi's gestation period is between 14 and 15 months.

Native only to the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, okapi survival is seriously threatened by unsettled political conditions and rebel military actions in that area. Population estimates for the species are extremely difficult to determine because the forest is so dense, but experts believe there are between 10,000 and 50,000 individuals and declining. Okapis are classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Additional threats come from habitat loss and hunting.

This rare species was first discovered about 100 years ago. Very little is known about the behavior of the okapi in its native land due to its shy, elusive nature. Much of what is known has been learned in zoos during the past 45 years.

In addition to Sekele, Kali and Forest, Denver Zoo is home to Molimo, a male, and Almasi, a female.


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