Pertinatal an Neonatal Care of Okapi
Perinatal and Neonatal Procedures
Neonatal Examination
Failure of Passive Transfer of Maternal Immunoglobulins (FPT)
Routine testing for parasites
Performing medical procedures

Medical management of the okapi is similar to other medium/large ruminants. Okapis are susceptible to many of the
diseases common to domestic ruminants. Digestive disorders, rotavirus, jaw abscesses, trauma and overgrown
hooves are a few of the most common problems encountered in the zoo community.

Perinatal and Neonatal Care of Okapi
It is recommended that female okapi near term be monitored closely for signs of impending parturition. To reduce
stress, this can be done through the use of remote video cameras. Parturition averages 3 to 4 hours and generally
proceeds rapidly once a foot is seen at the vulva (1.5 to 2.5 hours). Progression of parturition should be monitored
closely so dystocias and other problems can be detected as early as possible. Dystocias resulting from uterine inertia
and posterior presentation have been reported, and have been successfully corrected by manual manipulation and
extraction, using either standing or full chemical restraint. Calves born through assisted births are more at risk for
maternal neglect or trauma and neonatal problems, so careful consideration should be given to the introduction of
these calves to their dams and to monitoring their health.
The birth of a single calf is the norm, but twinning has occurred rarely. Normal birth weights are in the 15 to 30 kg range
with a mean of 22.5 kg (32 to 69.5 lb with a mean of 49.5 lb). Low birth weight calves or calves exhibiting evidence of immaturity
have a much higher prevalence of neonatal problems and should be evaluated and closely monitored.
Calves commonly double their birth weights in 3 to 4 weeks and triple it by 8 weeks.

Some behavioral landmarks for assessing neonatal health include:
  • time from birth to sternal recumbency (within 15 minutes – mean, 8 minutes)
  • time from birth to attempts to stand (within 18 minutes – mean, 12 minutes)
  • time from birth to standing (within 45 minutes – mean, 29 minutes)
  • time from birth to attempts to nurse (within 2 hours – mean, 38 minutes)
  • time from birth to first successful nurse (within 6 hours – mean, 77 minutes).

Calves that reach these behavioral landmarks slowly should be carefully evaluated and monitored. The birthing area
should have a substrate that provides good footing for the calf to allow standing without struggling or exhaustion and to
prevent injury from slipping and splaying. Okapi calves do not thermoregulate well until they are about 51 to 60 days
of age (rectal temperatures vary from 37.0° to 39.2°C and average 38°C (98.6° to 102.6°F and average 100.4°F) for the first
90 days of life), so barn temperatures should be regulated. Okapi calves generally delay their first defecation
(meconium passage) until they are 4 to 10 weeks old. Calves which defecate early should be observed closely for
signs of illness.

Additional behavioral landmarks for calves include:

  • first ingesting solid food 14 – 25 days mean, 20 days
  • first rumination 27 – 41 days mean, 33 days
  • regular defecation (occurring daily or every other day) 101 – 135 days mean, 120 days

The neonatal mortality rate of okapi in the North American captive population is about 20%—contributing factors
include maternal neglect and trauma, and infectious disease. Maternal neglect or inadequate maternal care can
lead to failure to nurse and failure of passive transfer of maternal immunoglobulins. Such calves will be prone to infectious
disease, and if intake remains inadequate, will quickly become hypoglycemic and dehydrated.

Diarrheal diseases can cause severe problems in okapi calves, with the principle pathogen being a rotavirus that is
endemic in the captive okapi population. Other common causes of enterocolitis in okapi calves are E. coli and coronavirus.
The younger the calf, the more serious the risk of severe disease or death from diarrheal disease.

  • Omphalophlebitis
  • polyarthritis
  • meningitis
  • fungal meningoencephalitis
  • bacterial
  • viral
  • fungal pneumonia
  • septicemia
  • enterotoxemia

have also caused morbidity and mortality in okapi calves.

Veterinary neonatal care is recommended to identify health problems early, guard against specific pathogens known to
affect okapi, and build the database of available okapi neonatal information. Since okapi dams have been known to
traumatize calves following handling, it is imperative that any procedure involving a calf be carefully thought out, discussed,
planned and considered worthy of the risk.


Perinatal and Neonatal Procedures:
Isolation and Hygiene: Okapi dams and calves should be kept as isolated as is possible from other okapi and other
species. Increased hygiene and sanitation should be instituted to prevent transfer of pathogens to the calf and dam.
Nothing substitutes for good hygiene and sanitation.
Enteric viruses are easily spread from enclosure to enclosure by fomites (i.e., boots, cleaning utensils, tires, etc.).
Use of footbaths and dedicated boots, coveralls, and utensils are indicated. Calving barns and enclosures should
be cleaned and fed first before keepers enter other enclosures.
Reduce entry into calving enclosure as much as possible.
Common sense is paramount when designing a sanitation program.
Don’t do anything that will endanger the calf or calfdam bond. (Over-cleaning and disturbing the calf ’s nest may disorient and
stress the calf, new smells from disinfectants may disturb the dam, etc.)
Keepers should concentrate on preventing introduction of pathogens into the calving enclosure rather than over-cleaning or
sanitizing the calving enclosure. Keeping calving barns warm reduces rotavirus and coronavirus survival in the nvironment.
Humidifying the air in calving barns also reduces rotavirus survivability. Proper ventilation in barns reduces aerosol spread of
pathogens. Phenolic disinfectants are most effective against rotavirus.
dams should be acclimated to the smell of these disinfectants well before calvin so the smell is not new.


1. Rotavirus and Coronavirus: Rotavirus and coronavirus are significant enteric pathogens that have caused diarrheal disease
in several okapi collections and death in young calves. A modified-live virus vaccine (Calf-Guard®, Pfizer Animal
Health, Exton, PA 19341, USA) and a killed virus vaccine (ScourGuard 3®‚ (K), Pfizer Animal Health, Exton, PA
10341, USA) are commercially available for prevention of rotavirus and coronavirus infections in calves and both have
been used in okapi. Both vaccines contain only one group A bovine rotavirus serotype (atypical rotaviruses are typically
seen in okapi) so the efficacy under field conditions of both of these vaccines has been seriously questioned. However,
clinical impressions suggest that vaccination does reduce the prevalence of serious clinical infections with rotavirus and
coronavirus in collections in which these enteric viruses are endemic.
Ideally, Calf-Guard®‚ must be given orally to calves immediately after birth, before they suckle colostrum, to provide
active mucosal immunity, but this is impractical and can put okapi calves at risk for maternal aggression or rejection.
Calf-Guard® can safely be used intramuscularly in okapi, but its efficacy by this route is unknown. ScourGuard 3®‚ (K)
was developed for intramuscular use and has been used in both okapi adults and calves. This vaccine has induced moderate
to severe muscular swelling, edema, and pain in individual adult okapis after multiple vaccinations. It is recommended
that okapi that experience a vaccination reaction to ScourGuard 3® (K) not be vaccinated again with this vaccine
(reactions appear to worsen with each successive vaccination). ScourGuard® reactors can be switched to vaccination
with Calf-Guard®, if deemed necessary.
Recommended intramuscular vaccine schedule for rotavirus and coronavirus: Initial vaccination of dams, twice, 3–4
weeks apart followed by a preparturient vaccination given 4-6 weeks before each parturition to boost colostral and lactogenic
antibodies. Calves should be vaccinated at their neonatal examination and at 4, 8, and 12 weeks of age.
2. E. coli: For collections that experience problems with neonatal colibacillosis, dams should be vaccinated during pregnancy
with ScourGuard 3®‚ (K) as described above. An Escherichia coli monoclonal antibody product (Genecol‚ 99,
Shering-Plough Animal Health Corp., Omaha, NE 68103, USA) has been given orally to okapi calves during the first 12
hours of life to prevent adherence of pathogenic E. coli to the intestinal mucosa.
3. Other Vaccines: Other vaccines can be used in okapi calves based upon health risks at each institution and the experience
of each veterinarian. Other vaccines which have been given to okapi calves include tetanus antitoxin, tetanus toxoid,
and polyvalent clostridium bacterins-toxoids.


Neonatal Examination:
This examination should take place within 24 to 96 hours after birth. The exact timing of the examination should
take into account the dam’s birth history and post-parturient behavior, the calf ’s attitude and perceived health, and
the institutions history of neonatal problems.

Adequate time should be given for good maternal-calf bonding. Each impending examination should be thoroughly discussed between managers, veterinarians, and keepers to reduce the risk of maternal rejection or aggression and trauma to the calf. Risk of maternal aggression is reduced if the neonatal examination is delayed until the calf establishes nesting behavior and the dam willingly leaves the calf alone (generally 48 to 96 hours). The dam can then be locked away from the calf, when she leaves it on her own, and left separated from the calf until the calf calms down and lays down normally in its nest. The examination should be performed as quickly and efficiently as possible using minimal staff. Care should be taken not to apply medications topically to the calf that have abnormal scents (e.g., alcohol, etc.), and to remove human scent from the calf. The re-introduction of the dam should be done with minimal staff present and in a routine manner, so the dam can see the calf in its nest from a distance when she enters the barn.

The examination should consist of the following:

  • Complete physical examination (including body weight and rectal temperature)
  • Blood Collection
    • CBC* (WBC generally < 10,000 with normal diff, PCV generally > 30%)
    • Chemistry Profile* (Glucose generally > 90 mg/dl)
      *See in-house or ISIS normals for neonates
    • Passive Immunoglobulin Transfer Determination
      • Total Solids (generally > 6.0 gm/dl)
      • Total Protein (generally > 6.0 gm/dl)
      • Globulin (generally > 3.0 gm/dl)
      • Glutaradehyde Coagulation Test (generally < 2 minutes)
      • Sodium Sulfite Turbidity Test (14%, 16%, and 18% solutions all positive)
      • Protein Electrophoresis
      • Serum GGT
    • Genetic Analysis
      • Chromosome Analysis (Karyotyping)
      • Whole Blood in Sodium Heparin (4.0-5.0 ml), ship overnight packed to avoid freezing or overheating to:
        Genetics, Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, IL 60513, call before shipping.
      • DNA Analysis (SSP DNA Bank)
      • Whole Blood in EDTA (2.0 ml)(preferred) or Heparin (2.0 ml), can also use blood clots and
        blood left over from other testing, ship overnight packed to avoid overheating to:
        Genetics, Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, IL 60513, call before shipping.
      • If sending tissue biopsy (skin, etc.), samples should be placed in sterile saline with 0.1 ml of Pen/Strep
        a (10,000 u and 10mg/ml). Ship overnight packed not to freeze or overheat to same address Genetics,
        Brookfield Zoo
    • In-House Serum Bank
  • Treat Umbilicus (i.e., betadine)
  • Administer Vitamin E (6–11 IU/Kg)
  • Administer Selenium (0.05 mg/Kg), only if deficiencies have been seen


Failure of Passive Transfer of Maternal Immunoglobulins (FPT):
Calves with evidence of FPT (based on neonatal blood work) should be observed closely for evidence of illness during the first
month of life. These “at-risk” calves should be considered for plasma transfusion to boost serum immunoglobulin levels. Institutions
breeding okapi should consider maintaining a frozen plasma bank for such occasions. Calves with FPT will need anywhere from
50 to 200 ml plasma/Kg body weight to raise immunoglobulins to acceptable ranges. The success of plasma transfer in raising
serum globulins can be evaluated by measuring serum globulins and performing serum electrophoresis before and after transfusion.


Quarantine for okapis should be accomplished in a large animal quarantine facility if such a facility exists. Alternatively,
the animal could be isolated from other ruminants and cared for by separate staff for the duration of the quarantine period.
Pre-shipment tests should be carried out prior to transfer of the animal and repeated during the quarantine period to
look for any travel-induced medical concerns.


Routine testing for parasites is recommended followed by treatment as needed. Annual vaccinations in some situations
may be advisable depending on institutional and individual history. Acquiring blood samples opportunistically is recommended
for baseline data.


To perform medical procedures, several methods have been used successfully. If the procedure is relatively non-invasive
(TB test or read, blood draw) and the individual has an approachable temperament, a standing immobilization can be
undertaken. Previous training to acclimate the individual to tactile contact is necessary in these circumstances. If the animal
is not approachable or not acclimated to direct contact, or the procedure is more involved, a full immobilization is
warranted. As with many ruminants, the risk of regurgitation, possibly resulting in inhalation pneumonia, is a serious
concern. Individuals should be fasted from food and water for a specified amount of time as directed by the veterinarian.
The procedure room should provide good footing and smooth walls to minimize possible injury to the animal. Animal
care staff should be prepared to help position the animal as needed to facilitate the procedure and to minimize risk to the
Some individuals have been acclimated to allow minor yet repeated hoof trims without the use of immobilizing drugs or
a restraint chute. This acclimation process usually begins when the animal is young and continues into adulthood. It is
possible that by utilizing a protective barrier, which allows access to the animal, more procedures could be undertaken
with minimal or no tranquilization. This type of acclimation is in development in a few of the managing institutions.
Both San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park utilize a restraint box for procedures which is working well for them.
Animals walk through the box on a daily basis and are desensitized to touch and confinement as part of their normal
routine. Drop chutes have not been utilized for okapis to date. Geriatric animals generally suffer from ailments similar
to bovids. Arthritis is relatively common. Medication offering pain relief may be warranted. Solid flooring with good
traction is important. Rubber flooring or thick bedding may also be warranted.


Andra K: personal communication.
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Lindsey, S, Bennett, CL, Pyle, E, et al: Calf management and the collection of physiologic data for okapi (Okapia
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Lukas, J (ed): Okapi Metapopulation Workshop, White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, Florida, 1996.
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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