Social considerations

Group composition
The introduction process
Group Size
Mixed Species Groups
Human-animal interactions
  Female with calf at Brookfield
Adult pair at Yokohama
Adult pair at Yokohama
Yearling focussing on dam while en-gaged in play behavior, "Pookie". Brookfield
Yearling chasing adult during introduction at Brookfield
The lie/rise behavior during the introduction of two animals
The submissive lie during a male/male introduction
Ground hornbill shares exhibit with okapi at St Louis
Yellow-backed duiker and okapi share exhibit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The remoteness of the natural environment has made it difficult
to study the behavior and social habits of the okapi in the wild
until very recently. Studies indicate the okapi is solitary. Small
groups of animals followed in the wild are thought to be a female
with her most recent calf or calves, or a female in the company of
a male. Biologists believe that a lactating female holds a territory
at the exclusion of other okapis. Males are thought to move more
freely in search of suitable browse and estrus females.

Group Composition: In captivity, small social units have been
successfully kept together. The most stable groups appear to be
related females or animals that have been raised together from an
early age. A variety of social combinations can be successful
depending largely on the personality, age, and/or reproductive status
of the individuals involved, and the size and quality of space

An adult male is often housed alone but adjacent to the female
group. Two immature males can be introduced and housed together
successfully through maturity prior to their introduction or
close proximity to mature females. A female with a young calf
should be housed alone in a location that is familiar and comfortable
for the female.

Two females with calves may be successfully maintained together if
the females have previously had a positive relationship. Timing of
this is dependent on the experience and comfort levels of the dam
and the individual temperament of the animals involved, and
should be attempted after calves have left the nest.


The Introduction Process is similar at all institutions. The only
differences have been the length of time the animals have fence
contact prior to being placed together and where the introduction
takes place. Animals to be introduced are given fence contact
before the actual introduction. This contact period lasts from 1-2
days to several weeks. After the initial contact, the animals should
be introduced in an area that will allow quick access for separation
in case there are any major problems. Institutions that introduce
mother-calf pairs to another animal(s) usually introduce in a large
pen to allow animals to move away from each other. When introducing
calves without the dam present, most institutions introduce
in a barn or small pen. If animals are being introduced in a
more confined area, a neutral area may be a part of or the only
introductory pen. This neutral area may decrease or eliminate
aggressive behaviors. Likewise, when a weaned calf, either during
the introduction process or newly introduced, is given access to a
large pen the calf should be familiar with the area to decrease the
possibility of injuries. During the introduction, the animal staff
needs to be prepared to observe both aggressive and submissive
behaviors. These behaviors include chasing, submissive lay, head
butts/tossing, kicks, spin-in-place, etc. These behaviors may be
allowed to continue for a short period of time without the danger
of injury. The animal staff will need to judge the severity and
duration of any aggressive or submissive behaviors to determine if
separation needs to occur. Another possible problem is attempted
nursing from the weaned calf. These nursing attempts usually do
not occur until after the initial day of introduction. If the calf is
persistent in its nursing attempts, the other animal may become
aggressive which could result in need for separation. During the
initial introduction period, okapi are separated during the night to
assure safety. After several days, animals can be left together
overnight as long as food intake can be monitored. Adult males
are generally not left in with adult females overnight unless additional
surveillance is provided

Since most institutions are housing more than one breeding pair
of okapi, all calves should be introduced to another okapi for
socialization. Introductions between calves and other okapis of
every age and of either sex have been accomplished.
Animal care staff should continue to monitor new introductions
closely to insure they are progressing in a positive manner or to
intervene as needed if negative behaviors begin to escalate.


Group size is usually dependent on the amount of available holding
and exhibit space. Since this species is not highly social, group
size is generally small. The facility must have the capacity to hold
each individual separately if needed. The typical number of animals
held at a breeding institution is 2.2.2 comprised of one adult
male who mates with two females, a second male who acts as a
back-up breeder, and the most recent offspring of the females. A
facility that houses non-breeding individuals may hold as few as
two animals.


Mixed Species Groups: Several duiker species as well as crane
species and ground hornbills have been successfully exhibited with
okapis. It is important to provide cover and security for all individuals
maintained together.


Human-animal interactions: Most individuals are approachable,
and acclimate to regular cleaning and operating routines without
exhibiting a negative fear response. Some individuals tend to keep
a larger distance from humans in the same space. Most allow and
sometimes solicit tactile interaction with their usual keepers
through a barrier. Staff from many institutions work in with individuals,
particularly in large spaces. It is advisable to follow a regular
routine so the animals learn what to expect. There are a small
number of hand-raised okapis in the zoo community. Most of
these individuals exhibit a normal range of behavior. There are
several males however, that are fearless around people and as a
result, require special daily operating procedures.

In some situations (i.e. aggressive or very bold animals), it may be
advisable to shift the animal into an adjacent space prior to servicing.
Special precautions should be taken when working around a
dam with a neonate. It is advisable to shift the dam away from the
neonate prior to servicing the area where the calf is. The period of
time this change in routine continues depends largely on the individuals
involved and the comfort level of the dam. Nesting calves
can be acclimated to tactile interactions during this period, which
often helps reduce flight response in an older calf.



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