‘Zebra giraffe’ expecting at Louisiana animal center. It’s a rare feat, officials say

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A species survival center in Louisiana is awaiting a special delivery: a newborn okapi.

The “zebra giraffe” is not an animal you’ll often see at a zoo, the Audubon Nature Institute told McClatchy News.

That’s because there are only 82 of them in 28 zoos nationwide, with five — three males and two females — kept at the nature institute’s Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, a spokesperson said. The center is not open to the public.

So when the center announced the pregnancy of 4-year-old Asili, it was only natural for officials to be excited.

“Each calf born is a celebration, as they are a challenging animal to breed — and with a 14-month gestation, offspring are not common,” spokesperson Annie Kinler Matherne said.

Asili, who mated with 12-year-old Kikari, is expected to give birth in July, according to Audubon.

Rare feat for okapi to give birth

Only three calves were born in the U.S. in the last year, Kinler Matherne said.

Audubon hopes to increase its population to 10 okapi, plus their offspring — “making it one of the top three breeding” conservation centers in the U.S., along with White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

“Zoos in the U.S. and Europe conserve these species by financially supporting and working with the Okapi Conservation Project in Africa, specifically the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Audubon said.

Okapi live in the Congo’s tropical canopy forests at elevations from1,600 to 4,900 feet, according to World Atlas.

Their body is about “4.9 feet at shoulder height and 8.2 feet in length,” the company said. Okapi can weigh 440 to 770 pounds.

Its long neck and stripes “are most likely the source of its zebra giraffe nickname,” the World Atlas said.

They are an endangered species — with threats to their population and habitat stemming from “illegal mining, habitat loss and civil unrest,” Audubon told McClatchy News.

Wildlife experts have estimated that between 10,000 and 35,000 okapi exist in the wild, though that number may be much lower due to difficulty in surveying, according to The Zoological Society of London.

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