First endangered okapi born at San Diego Zoo in four years

SAN DIEGO -- The first okapi to be born at the San Diego Zoo in four years is now three weeks old, zoo officials reported Thursday.

Animal care staff said Mosi -- Swahili for first-born -- is a robust little guy who exhibits many of the same personality traits as mom Mbaya, including a calm and easygoing demeanor. They said because of both okapis' relaxed temperaments, staff are able to successfully provide necessary care, and the opportunity for both mom and baby to thrive.

"This is her first calf, and she is allowing us to interact with this calf because she trusts us," said John Michel, senior keeper at the zoo.

"It was a relationship we had developed over a long period of time prior to this calf being born," Michel said. "And so, the relationship we have with her is the same relationship we have with the calf -- very trusting."

The zoo often waits a few weeks before announcing animal births.

Okapis -- the only living relative of the giraffe -- are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to hunting and habitat loss.

The animals are native to the Ituri Forest in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Distinctive with their zebra-like white- and-black striped hindquarters and front legs, the outside world didn't know about okapis until 1900.

The first members of the species were brought to the San Diego Zoo in 1956. Since then, more than 60 have been born at the zoo and Safari Park.

Zoo guests can visit Mosi, Mbaya and other okapis along Hippo Trail in Lost Forest.