Captive breeding success of okapi (Okapia johnstoni) has improved over the past three decades with much about their reproduction and calf-rearing having been characterized.1,2 Retrospective analysis of okapi calves from North America and Europe evaluated neonatal mortality and risk factors, including frequency of defecation. Data were collected for 97 calves from eleven institutions from 1976–2013. The calves were born to 28 dams at an average 9 years old. Neonatal mortality in this study was 12.3%. The average age at first defecation was 43 d; the median, 48 d (range 0–93 d). Early defecation (before 40 d) was not uncommon (n=35), including individuals where first defecation occurred before 20 d (n=22). In calves that did not survive (n=12), however, average age at first defecation was 19 d; median, 10 d. Early defecation was described as a one-time occurrence in most calves (n=26). A subset had episodic or recurrent defecation (n=5) and progressive diarrhea (n=4). No calves with progressive diarrhea survived. Neonatal mortality was most often due to viral enteritis (n=3) and other gastrointestinal disorders (n=3). Sick calves were often septic, highlighting the need for the aggressive medical interventions to manage a debilitated calf. This study reinforces that delayed first defecation is normal in this species. Early defecation is often the first sign of a sick calf, but as a one-time event can occur in healthy calves.
The authors wish to thank participating institutions and their veterinary and husbandry staff that contributed data on their okapi calves: Bristol Zoo Gardens, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Houston Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Marwell Wildlife, White Oak Conservation Center, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo.
1. DeRosa T, Lyon F, Petric A, eds. Husbandry Guidelines for the Okapi SSP. Chicago, IL: Chicago Zoological Society; 2004.
2. Raphael BL. Okapi medicine and surgery. In: Fowler MF, Miller RE, eds. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders; 1999:646–650.