Wild Place Project’s infant female okapi, Ruby, has celebrated her five month birthday coinciding with World Okapi Day (18 October).
The global day of recognition aims to raise awareness of the species, whose existence in the wild is under serious threat from the impact of human activities.
Okapi are entirely dependent on the forest sanctuary for their survival. Deforestation, along with poaching and mining, has contributed to their precipitous decline in recent decades.
Ruby, who was born in May of this year, has tripled in weight since her birth thanks to her love of browsing on leaves and eating sugar beet. She still feeds from mum, Kibibi, who she follows closely around the paddock.
Head of operations at Wild Place Project, Nigel Simpson, said: “We’re thrilled with Ruby’s development; it’s great to see her becoming stronger and more confident.
“We have ensured that she is comfortable with keepers working around her by carrying out training since she was one month old. This was the first step in getting her used to her to allow us to provide the best level of husbandry care, including hoof care sessions, checking her temperature and administering medication, if required, with minimal stress.”
The best time to see Ruby and Kibibi is during the afternoons, when they enjoy exploring their paddock together. They are easily recognisable in the Secret Congo exhibit by their brown and white striped rumps with a deep reddish brown velvety coat.
The birth of Ruby at Wild Place Project was a great achievement for the attraction. There are just 14 okapi in the UK, including Ruby, so her birth was a huge boost to the breeding programme.
In the 1960s Bristol Zoological Society, which owns and runs Wild Place Project and Bristol Zoo Gardens, was a founder member of the first ever modern breeding programme in a European Zoo. The Zoo received a male and a female from Antwerp Zoo, in Belgium, who went on to successfully breed at Bristol Zoo Gardens.
The success of the breeding programme was applied to other species by zoos across Europe and was used as an example to help safeguard the future of threatened and endangered animals in human care.
Okapi were moved from Bristol Zoo Gardens to Wild Place Project when it opened in 2013 and a total of 40 calves have been born at both sites.
Okapi are the only living relative of the giraffe. The species was first encountered by Europeans in 1900 and described by scientists in 1901. They are native only to the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa where they are threatened by expansion of human settlement and forest degradation. A major current threat is also the presence of illegal armed groups in and around the key protected areas for the species.