Zoo announces birth of rare okapi

A baby female okapi stands by its mother, Semliki, at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. This week, zoo officials announced the Sept. 27 birth of Sauda, which means "dark beauty" in Swahili.Jim Schulz / Brookfield Zoo via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Brookfield Zoo announced this week the birth of a baby okapi — an endangered African animal that looks as if it were put together by committee.

With a dark brown body and striped upper hind legs, the 1-month-old female looks a bit like a zebra, but claims closer ties to a giraffe. Her name, Sauda, means "dark beauty" in Swahili.

Not yet on public display, except through a video feed from her quiet nesting area with her mother, baby Sauda will make her debut in the zoo's African forest exhibit in the spring.

Since her Sept. 27 birth, Sauda has tripled in size: She's about 157 pounds (71 kilograms) and stands more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall at the shoulder. She could grow to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) and 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall.

The zoo's Web site is tracking the calf's development, including the fact that she tried to stand 16 minutes after birth. Sauda's parents, 4-year-old mother, Semliki, and 9-year-old father, Ulimi, are new to all this.

"Since this is a first-time mom, we're a little more cautious and concerned not knowing how she's going to react," said Brookfield Zoo's mammal curator, Ann Petric. "She's done quite well, and the calf is developing just as anticipated."

The zoo is recording Sauda's movements so scientists can learn more about okapi behavior, Petric said. First discovered by Westerners in the animals' native Congo in the early 1900s, the secretive okapi, known to live only in a forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, still hold many mysteries for researchers.

In 1959, the Brookfield Zoo became the site of the first okapi birth in North America, and since then 28, including Sauda, have been born there, Petric said.