From: Jim Salter, Associated Press
Published November 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Rare Okapi Calf Doing Well at Missouri Zoo

ST. LOUIS − A rare okapi -- something of a cross between a giraffe and a zebra -- born at the St. Louis Zoo this summer is doing well despite a shaky relationship with its mother, zoo officials said Wednesday.


Badru, a male, was born July 1 and can be seen by the public most days from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the zoo's Red Rocks area near the camels. The zoo, in Forest Park, is free and open every day except Christmas and New Year's Day.


The okapi is the only relative of the giraffe and its head resembles that of the giraffe. But the okapi has a shorter neck, a reddish chestnut color on the trunk, and stripes on its legs.


"People see it and think we've done some sort of magic breeding between the giraffe and zebra," said Martha Fischer, curator of mammals/ungulates at the zoo.


It is considered to be the rarest animal in captivity. Zoo officials said there are just 87 okapis in 22 American zoos, including five in St. Louis.


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Badru weighed 33 pounds at birth, considered on the low-end of average, Fischer said.


But shortly after birth, the trouble began.


Badru was the first calf of his mother, Hisani, who was frightened by the delivery and attacked the calf, breaking his leg.


Zoo officials were monitoring the birth on video and quickly separated the two. A zoo surgeon repaired the leg. Badru has thrived under the care of keepers, who have bottle-fed him and observed him around the clock, the zoo said. He now weights 150 pounds.


The animal's mother is housed in an adjacent stall -- the two can see each other and interact, but they have no physical contact out of fear that the mother might attack again, Fischer said.


Hisani, an 8-year-old, is on loan from Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. The 12-year-old father, Hamaki, is on loan from White Oak Conservation Center in Florida.


Hisani is pregnant again, and zoo officials are hopeful she'll behave better the second time around.


"It's not unusual for a first-time okapi mother to be scared when she has her first calf," Fischer said. "She didn't know what it was.


"It could go either way" with the next calf, Fischer said. "There have been okapi that have attacked their first calves and then been great mothers, And there have been others who just have that tendency. Most okapi mothers are fine."


The okapi was one of the last mammals discovered by the scientific community, in 1901. The zoo said it is a shy and secretive animal -- so much so that little is known about its lifestyle. In the wild, it is found in the rain forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


It's numbers in the wild are not known, but the okapi is likely endangered due to hunting and political crises in its native land, the zoo said.


Source: Associated Press


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