August 30th, 2010
“Karen was a beautiful okapi, and a favorite of Zoo staff and visitors,” said Mike McClure, general curator at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. “She will be missed by all of us.”
Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) are native to the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and have been called “the short-necked giraffe of Africa.” Okapi have a short coat that is dark reddish-brown with white stripes on their hind end and front upper legs, and white ankles on their lower legs. The stripes help okapi blend into the shadows of the forest and make them very difficult to see, even when they are only a few feet away. They have longer front legs than rear legs, and they have relatively long necks. These features are similar to those of okapis’ nearest relative, the giraffe. Okapi also have a long, prehensile tongue like the giraffe.
Okapi are ruminants, having four stomachs and chewing cud consisting of regurgitated, partially digested food. Karen had underlying gut motility issues periodically, and had been treated successfully multiple times in past years by Zoo staff.
Late this week, staff noticed decreased appetite and fecal output and began providing her with intensive, round-the-clock care and monitoring. She unfortunately did not respond to medical treatment despite all efforts, including additional browse and food items to her diet, as well as walking her to increase gut movement.
They kept her hydrated, although she showed no interest in her food. Staff had been working with Karen to teach her to voluntarily enter a new, padded Okapi Restraint Device (ORD), which allowed keepers and veterinarians better access for medical exams and treatment, without having to anesthetize her. Having exhausted all means of treating Karen’s digestive problems without seeing any vast improvement, staff brought Karen into the ORD on Saturday in order to give her fluids and draw blood for a full work-up.
Staff was monitoring her overnight and she was found dead close to midnight. “A necropsy (animal autopsy) is being performed and it will be a few weeks before we have results from the tests,” concluded McClure.
The Zoo is home to one other okapi, 14-year-old Hiari, born at the Bronx Zoo. There are only about 80 okapi in zoos in the United States, and they are managed by the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). It is unknown whether or not The Maryland Zoo will be able to bring in another female at this time.