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The newest star has stripes at Tampa's Lowry Park zoo

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PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent. PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent.
PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent. PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent.
PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent. PHOTOS BY Dave Parkinson, Zoo docent.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is wild about moms, including one of the newest who lives at the Zoo: "Betty," an adult female okapi with her 4-month-old offspring, "Bahati."   At the Zoo's recent Karamu gala, the Emerick family of Tampa won the live auction opportunity to sponsor and name the calf.  They selected a Swati name, Bahati, which means lucky. 

Bahati is just beginning to emerge from the newborn "nesting phase," a hiding behavior common and in the wild, providing protection from predators.  He has grown from 64 pounds at birth on January 6, to more than 283 pounds in April (gaining 10-15 pounds per week).

While both mom and calf have access to the main outdoor exhibit most afternoons, Bahati often chooses to stay on his nest while Betty wanders in and out. When the calf does decide to venture outside, he has been seen sprinting out of the barn to greet the sunshine, much to the delight of any guests within the Ituri Forest habitat area. Once outside, Bahati is very interested in wild birds and also the Marabou stork who shares the exhibit.

These large hoofed mammals are found in the rain forests of northern, central and eastern regions of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Okapis are listed as a threatened species, with continued loss of habitat and political unrest in their native region. The species is a shy and reclusive forest dweller and is the only living relative of the giraffe.

Okapis have a very unique color pattern -- reddish-brown, velvet-like coats with horizontal zebra-like striping on their hindquarters and legs. The body shape is similar to that of a giraffe, but with a much shorter neck.

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo provides annual support for to the Okapi Conservation Project founded to secure a protected area in the Ituri Forest region of the DRC for the okapi and other native species. The goals of the project are to train and equip wildlife guards to protect the area from poachers, provide community assistance to people living around the reserve, educate people about sustainable use, and provide care for a breeding group of okapi in the reserve.

The Zoo's Ituri Forest habitat area, which houses the okapi exhibit, was made possible by funding provided by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.  The Zoo also acknowledges with gratitude the generous support of the L.V. Thompson Family Foundation in its sponsorship of the okapi exhibit.

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