Saving an Elusive Species

Dallas Zoo Makes a Difference for Endangered Okapis at the Zoo and Beyond

By: Chelsey Norris, Guest Contributor

There is nothing quite like the okapi in the animal kingdom. By all appearances, the okapi is something of a zebra-horse hybrid plucked straight from the imaginative mind of Dr. Seuss. However, these mammals are very real relatives of the giraffe — with much shorter necks, of course — and they are facing very real threats in the wild. 

Okapi are found only in the dense rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa, where they are revered so much that their likeness appears on the colorful notes of the Congolese franc, the DRC’s currency, and they have been named the country’s official national animal. Okapi are known to be intensely shy and, according to the Okapi Conservation Project, “nearly impossible to observe in the wild.” This makes determining population numbers quite difficult, but it’s estimated that there are only between 10,000 and 15,000 individuals left in the wild, a range that continues to decrease each year. 

Dallas Zoo’s Director of Conservation, Chris Corpus says these dwindling numbers are related to the struggles facing the people of the DRC, which have led to destruction of the land that okapi and other endangered species call home. 

“It is a part of the world with great need in terms of money, food security, housing, and physical safety. Those needs lead to human strife and warfare, as well as unsustainable uses of natural resources like the forests,” he said. “Habitat destruction is a serious issue for okapi with farmlands expanding, as well as illegal logging and mining destroying the forests. In order to protect okapi and these forests, we need to help the Congolese people have their basic needs met, so they can make choices to live in harmony with the forests around them.” 

"In order to protect okapi and these forests, we need to help the Congolese people have their basic needs met, so they can make choices to live in harmony with the forests around them.”

To that end, Dallas Zoo has worked closely with the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) since 2000, but our involvement in okapi conservation efforts goes back even further — Zoo staffers can recall working on okapi projects as far back as the 1970s and 80s. OCP leads the charge with community engagement and field research in the DRC through a holistic approach to conservation, including an annual World Okapi Day celebration that promotes sustainable use of the DRC’s land resources. Last year, Dallas Zoo welcomed OCP’s program manager Berce Nsafuansa for a special visit.  

“Despite working in okapi conservation for years, Berce had never seen a wild okapi, and when he visited us, it was one of his first-ever moments meeting an okapi up close,” said Corpus. 

“Berce was able to meet all of our okapi, including Maziwa, who happened to be pregnant at the time. When her calf was successfully born, we reached out to Berce for some name suggestions. ‘Malamu’ (mah-lah-moo), which means ‘good,’ was on his list, and the zoologists loved it so much that it was chosen for her name!” 

The Dallas Zoo mammal team says that Malamu, who was born on February 4, 2024, is thriving and truly living up to her name. As the first okapi calf born at the Zoo since 2013, she is a pretty big deal!  

“Okapi are a cryptic, shy species, so breeding success is a huge deal for the sustainability of the population,” Corpus said. “There are only 89 individuals within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums population. Any okapi birth is worth celebrating, but females are particularly significant, as they can only have one calf every few years.” 

The Zoo’s work within the AZA’s Species Survival Plan, the program that manages the okapi population in accredited zoos in North America, has had a major impact on this endangered species. An incredible 84% of okapi within the AZA can trace their origins back to the Dallas Zoo.   

Malamu has been spending time in her public-facing habitat in the Wilds of Africa as weather and mom Maziwa’s comfort levels allow, but the best chance to see her is at the Okapi Keeper Chat, at 10 a.m. Sunday through Friday.  

“Guests make audible ‘ooo’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ when they see her, which has been fun to watch,” said Corpus. “We have had a bigger audience at the Okapi Keeper Chat; many guests have come specifically for Malamu.“  

Fun at the Zoo this Summer

Tantalize your taste buds with delicious summertime flavors at our restaurants, groove on the Grove along to fantastic tunes at our Safari Nights concerts, and experience a new animal-feeding opportunity.

☼ Tortoise Feeding

Save the date for a new way to use your animal feeding benefits! Starting in July, you can give a tasty snack to the Galapagos tortoises in ZooNorth. Tip: Come early in the day, as there are limited opportunities — the tortoises tend to have a bigger appetite in the mornings.

  • $7 per feeding or FREE for members with animal feeding benefits!

☼ Safari Nights

Our summer concert series is in full swing! Join us for these fun, family-friendly evenings of music. Your membership gets you free tickets to each one! 

June 15  |  ESCAPE  |  Journey Tribute

June 22  |  LIKE COMBS  |   Luke Combs Tribute

June 29  |  MR. INEZ  |  Classic Rock Hits From 60’s-80’s

July 6  |  HAZARD COUNTY  |   Country Hits

Make a reservation now (including optional add-ons like cabanas or chairs) to join us for an unforgettable summer night!

☼ New Menu Items

Stop by one of the Zoo’s restaurants to try some delicious new offerings, including: 

  • House Cobb Salad | at the Prime Meridian Café
    • Romaine lettuce, diced bacon, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheddar-jack cheese, diced egg, avocado, charred jalapeño ranch 
  • Peachy Goat Burger | at Serengeti Grill
    • Black angus beef patty, goat cheese, peach mostarda, candied bacon, arugula 
  • Mini Loaded Sopapillas | at the Safari Bites and
    Brews trailer

    • Chamoy fruit compote, whipped cream, local honey 

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