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Okapi arrives at Roosevelt Park Zoo

Akili, a male okapi, arrived at Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot on Sept. 9. He left his previous home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a Hurricane Irma evacuee. Submitted Photo

Help hurries in when weather is at its worst. Preparations for Roosevelt Park Zoo’s okapi have been months in the making but he departed Florida as a Hurricane Irma evacuee.

Akili is a 17-year-old male okapi. He is most recently from Disney’s Animal Kingdom where he played a key role in the conservation of okapi, an endangered species according to the IUCN Red List. Now retired from the conservation breeding program, Roosevelt Park Zoo is the 27th Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in the county to have a habitat approved for okapi. Here, Akili will be an ambassador promoting education and conservation for his species in the wild.

Hurricane Irma forced Walt Disney World parks to close for only the fourth time in history. In an effort to give Akili the safest place to weather the storm, Roosevelt Park Zoo arranged his transport to North Dakota ahead of schedule to depart early morning of Thursday, Sept. 7, prior to the storm. He arrived safely on Saturday, Sept. 9.

Akili is acclimating to his new home in a newly renovated habitat. He will not be on view for the public for several weeks. During that time, Akili will be inside bonding with zoo keepers and veterinarian Ann Olson will be monitoring his health during his quarantine period.

Okapi are solitary animals native to the Congo and are most closely related to the giraffe. The okapi species is one of the largest mammals most recently documented by scientists. According to the IUCN Red List, “Okapi have been undergoing a decline since at least 1995 that is ongoing and projected to continue, in the face of severe, intensifying threats and lack of effective conservation action which is hindered by the lack of security.”

Akili, a male okapi, arrived at Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot on Sept. 9. He left his previous home at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a Hurricane Irma evacuee. Submitted Photo

Minot Park District staff have worked tirelessly to complete the okapi habitat. Maintenance staff led the renovation of the barn to safely accommodate a larger animal and include public winter viewing of the okapi. Keepers painted the interior of the habitat to reflect the dark underbrush of the Congo and included several enrichment opportunities to encourage the okapi’s natural browsing abilities. Forestry staff planted trees approved for the okapi’s diet that will thrive in the North Dakota environment and they are exploring creative ways to protect the trees into maturity. Horticulture staff recycled the sod from Corbett Field prior to the turf transition making Akili’s home possibly the greenest in Minot.

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