For many of us, staying indoors and being unable to explore the outside world has been something forced upon us for the last year. But over winter, there was an exciting new arrival at Chester Zoo, and they have been able to explore the outdoors and explore the beautiful outdoors of Cheshire. A rare baby Okapi was born at the zoo on December 28th, 2020 and has spent her first few weeks of life snuggled up safely with her mother; she has now braved the elements of the outside world.
The female calf was born to seven-year-old mum K’tusha and 17-year-old dad Stomp and arrived safely following a 14-month-long pregnancy. Chester Zoo’s CCTV cameras captured the calf’s first wobbly steps as she was gently encouraged to her feet by mum, shortly after birth. Now, the shy new arrival has stepped outside for the first time after spending the first few weeks of life snuggled up inside. Zookeepers have named the adorable youngster ‘Nia Nia’ in homage to a small village that is in the centre of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Reserve is a place where the zoo’s field partners are based, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is the only country where Okapis are found in the wild.
The Okapi’s zebra-like stripes on its back legs allow offspring to easily follow their mothers into the dense forests in the DRC, keeping them well hidden from potential predators. Its elusive nature, paired with an impeccable sense of hearing and unique camouflage, led to the species being nicknamed the ‘African unicorn’ as the animal went undiscovered until 1901. Sarah Roffe, team manager of the Okapis at Chester Zoo, said: “The birth of an okapi calf is cause for great celebration – they are incredibly rare and incredibly special.
“Mum K’Tusha is so far doing a wonderful job of caring for her new born. Watching her gently encourage her new baby to its feet in those precious moments shortly after her birth was a real privilege to see. “Okapis are incredibly secretive animals and, for a little while following her birth, Nia Nia had not wanted to venture too far and had instead remained snuggled up in her cosy nest area, with mum returning to her every few hours to allow her to feed. “But now she’s gaining in confidence every single day; she’s bouncing with energy and eager explore. She’s a joy to watch – she’s all ears and long, spindly legs!”
The okapi is also the only known living relative of the Giraffe and is the national symbol of the DRC, with the species protected under Congolese law. However, despite their protected status under the law, the species has suffered a 50 per cent decline in the past two decades by poachers actions towards their species. Therefore, the species is listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Nick Davis, Deputy Curator of Mammals at Chester Zoo, added: “These gentle creatures have been heavily targeted by poachers in recent years, mainly as a result of the illegal bushmeat trade, which is growing across nearly all of its natural range – making conservation efforts to protect these animals really difficult.
“With only 76 okapis in zoos across Europe, and with sightings in the wild becoming even less common than before, every birth is therefore vital to the endangered species breeding programme. The safety-net population in progressive zoos is protecting future conservation options for the okapi, so not only is Nia Nia’s arrival an important moment for us, it’s an important moment for the species.” See the baby Okapi with its mother: