Is it a zebra? Is it a giraffe? Nope, you’ll soon spot an okapi in Expedition Africa!
Despite their striped hindquarters, okapi are the closest living relatives of giraffe! In a first for our Zoo, we welcomed 1-year-old George the okapi from a fellow facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). George is acclimating in a behind-the-scenes space for now as he gets to know his new home and animal care team – but we’ll let you know on our social media channels once he starts exploring our Africa habitats.
George’s move is a part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), an AZA program with the goal of ensuring healthy, genetically diverse animal populations within AZA-accredited facilities and protect vulnerable species. While there aren’t plans to pair George up with a female okapi now, moving him to our Zoo gives his mom the space to possibly breed again.
George was named after the late Dr. George Rabb, a longtime director of Brookfield Zoo. This conservationist worked to better understand and protect several species, including okapi. He conducted studies on the behavior and mother–infant relationships of okapi and was a part of establishing the Okapi Wildlife Preserve in their natural range in the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Okapi are considered endangered due to threats from hunting and the continued loss of this habitat. This species is illusive in their natural range – helped along by their coloring. While the indigenous people of the Ituri Forest knew of okapis, this species was considered a myth by Western scientists until 1901.
We’re thrilled to have this former cryptid species (along with a few others for a more limited time) at our Zoo!
Want to help okapi in their natural range? By recycling electronics, we help animals like okapi by reducing the need to mine minerals in and around their native range. You can bring in your old smartphones, tablets, handheld gaming devices, digital cameras, chargers, headphones and other small electronics to the Zoo for reclamation through our Eco-Cell program! The electronics drop-off box is located to the left of the Zoo ticket booth just outside of the Guest Services office.