brushing an okapifeeder for an okapifloor mat for an okapi
It is important that we strive to maximize opportunities to encourage the okapi’s natural repertoire of behaviors in their environment. These activities help engage animals both mentally and physically, and help minimize, or eliminate, negative or unwanted behaviors.

Some examples of enrichment are:

  • spending time with their keeper
  • offering choice browse or smaller portions of their diet throughout the day
  • novel items that catch their attention
  • Depending on the animals involved, allowing social opportunities or providing new areas to explore all contribute to a healthy and well-adjusted animal

Food items are often the choice for enrichment by allowing for unlimited opportunities of browsing throughout the day.
It should be noted that enrichment food items should not exceed the normal diet amounts. Food enrichment provides for needed oral stimulation that might otherwise become negative obsessive behavior. There is a number of approved browse species
utilized at each institution and a variety of ways it can be offered.

Food items can be used for enrichment:

  • Daily cuttings of branches and leaves can be located at a variety of heights
  • Alfalfa can be offered in different types of containers and hung to encourage natural foraging overhead
  • Safe, novel objects like balls that have rough or smooth surfaces, or traffic cones, or even food puzzles, also encourage exploration

A survey completed in 1999 by 11 holding institutions provides information on how various plantings are utilized in outdoor enclosures. While some vegetation is occasionally browsed, most offer other aspects of enrichment for the animals such as, shade, security or cover, or for urine marking by the males.

Non-food items are also used for enrichment:

  • Okapis will rub their necks on edges of objects
  • Natural-fiber floor mats have been attached to walls or posts for additional rubbing locations
  • Tips of branches are utilized to scratch the inside of their ears
  • Groupings of branches hung from above provide cover to hide behind when startled
  • Solid partitions ~4 feet tall and 6-8 feet long offer cover and at the same time, allow the animal to observe activity from behind by only exposing its head at one end to observe
Edited by Terry DeRosa, San Antonio Zoo, Fran Lyon, White Oak Conservation Center and Ann Petric, Okapi SSP Coordinator, Brookfield Zoo Illustration: J. Busch
Updated and adapted for the web, Patrick Immens