A Tail of Two Okapi

By Senior Veterinarian Dr. Ray Ball

While discussing ruminants with my animal nutrition class, I described some health challenges we have had with giraffe and okapi.  Every one instantly knows what a giraffe is, but not so much with an okapi and even in this college biology class there were a few puzzled looks.  I briefly explained what an okapi was and how it is related to a giraffe.  “But what color are they?”  One inquisitive mind finally asked.  This has always stumped me when trying to describe okapis, but looking out into class and seeing the omnipresent Starbucks cups and the students sipping, it hit me.  “Okapi are like upside down raspberry mocha lattes.”  All twenty-eight heads dropped and began to jot down notes.

There are few creatures today that truly deserve the description of mythical but the okapi is one of them.  They do resemble short robust little giraffes but are much stouter in the body and have crisper facial features.  Then of course there is the color; a raspberry mocha brown on top with white stripes on the lower body and legs.  The fur itself adds much to the mystique of the okapi and touching one is an extraordinary treat.  They feel like velour and the slight oil in their skin rubs off leaving the raspberry mocha color on your hands.

Betty and Zach are a pair of okapi who live at ZooTampa.  The pair have spent essentially their entire adult lives together.  Last week we celebrated the birth of their beautiful calf.  They have been able to achieve this due to the care - and adoration - of the staff dedicated to their wellbeing.  Betty is starting to show her age just a little and a boost of energy in her diet was insurance to make sure both mom and calf would have everything they needed to thrive. Both seem to be doing so now. The relationship between the okapi and the okapi keeper team has led to several advances in their health care, including hoof trimming and general examinations. The ultrasound exam and now the milk sample collection have allowed us to further that care with Betty’s pre-natal evaluations.

The upside raspberry mocha latte comes in two sizes, venti and grande but that is temporary.  This little girl okapi calf will grow quickly, her ears will straighten out and she will also develop the oil in her skin.  She will then be able to leave a little bit of herself with everyone she encounters.  She has already started to make everyone fall in love with her.