Zuri, our male calf, turned one on June 17. We have handled him a little differently from our past calves. Using a technique called imprinting, we have methodically accustomed him to human contact and various stimuli, beginning when he was just 24 hours old. His mom, Makini, an experienced female, has had no problem with any of these handling sessions. She stands calmly by while we work with her baby, often licking him (and us!) at intervals during the sessions. Best of all, Zuri is also halter trained. He can now be lead and happily follows us to pretty much anywhere we want him to go, even into confined spaces such as a trailer. We can also do full hoof trims with his cooperation, while someone holds his halter and reassures him. This is a novel and crucial breakthrough because okapis need occasional foot care, and animals that are not trained need to be completely anesthetized. Imagine if you had to be asleep to trim your toenails! We can now take care of okapi feet without putting them to sleep.
The most anticipated event, however, is the arrival of Biscotti, a seven-year-old male that has been living with our okapi group at the San Diego Zoo. He is coming to the Park as part of our ongoing breeding program. As well as being welcomed into the Wild Animal Park’s group, he is also being included in our bioacoustics study (see previous posts, Secret language of the Okapi and How the Okapi Spends Its Day).
As part of this study, a camera and a special microphone (which can “hear” the low-frequency calls) will be installed in his new stall in order to capture vocalizations between Biscotti and all the other okapis. This specialized equipment is capable of recording all sounds made by the okapis, including the calls which are so low in frequency that we cannot hear them without the help of a computer. Most exciting is the fact that we are now recording okapi behavior around the clock (for the very first time!) so that we can finally begin to unravel what these rare and endangered animals are doing (and saying) at any moment, night or day. This approach is going to provide very important insights into interactions between the new male and the rest of the herd and aid our understanding of okapi biology.
One final announcement: Ayana, a 6-year-old female, is expecting! Her calf is due mid-November of this year. For whatever reason, the last eight calves born at the Park have been males, so Think Pink for Ayana, because we need all the girls we can get!