Ideal facility temperature is within the range of 66–78°F (19–26°C). The health and age of the animals sometimes makes the difference. Many facilities must routinely utilize some type of heating system during the colder months. In southern facilities, good ventilation in the summer months is equally important to minimize high temperatures. Though this species is not cold hardy, they can tolerate outside temperatures of 40–55°F (5–13°C) for short periods of time if given free access to a heated space. Temperatures below 40°F (5°C) should be avoided unless the weather is calm, sunny and dry.

Humidity: Native to the equatorial African rainforest, okapis are accustomed to high humidity. It is beneficial to maintain 50-60% humidity indoors to minimize sinus conditions.

Illumination: Natural light intensity is more than sufficient for this forest dweller. Skylights are recommended for a portion of the space. Other areas can remain without skylights to moderate light levels. Additional artificial lighting will be needed and should be of sufficient intensity to observe all aspects of the animals and their behavior while indoors. Artificial lighting should be adjusted to match the normal day/night cycle.

Inside Facilities should be spacious. At most institutions, okapis spend more than 50% of their time on an annual basis inside, due primarily to weather concerns and to insure animal safety overnight. The design and square footage of interior space, therefore, should be given serious consideration. Optimal stall space for a single animal is 300 sq. ft. (28 sq. meters). Interior walls should be a minimum of 6 feet (1.80m) high. Vertical space should be high enough to allow mating to occur inside.

Outside Facilities should offer protection from strong sunlight. Shade is very important for this forest species. Calves in particular are intolerant of extreme heat and sun. The minimum area for two animals is 5412 sq. ft. (500 sq. m.). Exterior barriers 6 feet high (1.80m) will contain this species. Flight reactions are less severe and occur less frequently in enclosures, which are adequately sized and offer a good amount of cover or areas of retreat for the animals.The location chosen for this species should consider traffic patterns and noise levels during routine operations. This shy, forest species fares better in quiet, low profile settings. Water features within the exhibit should not be deep. If animals have access to the water, easy access in and out of the stream should be provided. The streambed should also provide good traction to avoid animal injury.

Inter-individual Spaces: Okapis are not social. The most stable groups in a captive setting appear to be related females, or females who have been raised together from an early age. Multiple feeding stations should be available. Each animal should be provided with a bedded area. Males are often only with the females for mating purposes. The facility must be able to separate all individuals when necessary. An inter-individual space of 15 feet (4.5 meters) is sufficient.

Temporary Isolation: Individuals may need to be separated for a variety of reasons throughout their life. Breeding males are often maintained alone, but adjacent to the females. Females with young calves are maintained by themselves. Medical procedures require isolation to properly fast and recover the individual. Prior to shipment, individuals should be isolated to acclimate to the shipping container.

Furnishings within the space should be free from sharp objects,< which might injure the animal. All items in the environment should have rounded corners/edges. Furnishings should not be placed directly in the animal’s travel path or close to doorways. Placement of all furnishings should complement the layout of the overall space. Type of furnishings should not allow animals to become entangled. Visual barriers outside of the exhibit perimeter should be provided to minimize collision with the perimeter. Shade is very important for this species. Calves in particular are intolerant of extreme heat and sun. The space should be generally flat or gently sloping. Any slope should be no greater than a 3–to–1 grade. When in an excited state, okapis corner very close to objects when running, and occasionally spin in place. The design of the outside exhibit should keep these and other behaviors in mind.

Visual, Acoustic and Olfactory Barriers: The okapi’s senses of smell and hearing are much keener than its vision. The most sensitive management situations include a female with a young calf, acclimation of a new individual to a facility, and an individual acclimating to isolation. Noises from mechanical equipment and small machinery should be kept to a minimum or eliminated in the immediate area. The use of a radio within the facility can be used to provide background noise and may minimize a startle response when unexpected noises occur.

Substrates and Nesting Materials: Floors should provide for good traction and abrasion for hoof wear. Additional non-slip substrate may be required prior to a birth depending on the nature of the original floor. Fine grade limestone or a very thick layer of absorbent bedding has provided good footing for newborns in facilities where the permanent floor does not provide adequate traction. This species will utilize an area of thick bedding on which to rest and as a latrine area. Wood shavings are commonly used, though other absorbent materials can be substituted. Each individual requires its own nesting area. In the outside areas, commonly traveled paths can be covered with abrasive material to promote hoof wear if needed.

Variation in the Environment: Occasionally, visual barriers may need to be installed if individuals appear to be bothered by an adjacent animal, or to give an individual more security. Hanging large branches within the space also provides “cover” in addition to< being a treat to chew, strip and lick. Having multiple feeding locations and changing these locations occasionally provides an opportunity for animals to investigate the environment more thoroughly.

Scent Marking and Cleaning: Okapis have pedal glands and utilize scent marking to locate other okapis in the wild. In a captive setting, this should not preclude maintaining a sanitary space and cleaning on a regular schedule. Additionally, males will utilize small shrubs to mark with urine.

Air Quality: It is difficult to give a required number of air exchanges per hour since the size and design of any given facility varies. Enclosed facilities should maintain good ventilation at all times to minimize ammonia levels and to help alleviate extreme heat. Humidity levels should be monitored and maintained at a< moderate level (50–60% minimum) year-round for this forestdwelling species.

Safety and Containment: Generally, animal care staff can work in with okapis. Occasionally, a difficult individual or situation is encountered. For that reason, it is recommended that shift doors be designed to allow remote operation. Animal door openings should be 4 feet wide (1.22m) at a minimum. No severe slopes< should exist in the outside exhibit space. Deep water should be avoided. It is important for this species to have visual barriers to help outline the extent of the exhibit and minimize collision with the perimeter. Six-foot (1.83m) high barriers are sufficient to contain this species. Containment can be achieved through a variety of materials. Barriers need to be free of protrusions or sharp edges that may abrade or injure an animal. Barriers can be vertical bars with spacing of about 3 inches (7.6cm.), or solid below with bars or a sturdy wire mesh above. Cables and various types of mesh fence have also been utilized. Horizontal spacing in cables should be 6 inches (15cm) for the first 3 feet (90cm) of height; after 3 feet, 8 inch (20cm) spacing can be used. If other animals will be adjacent, a barrier with a solid bottom offers more security for young calves. Hot wire should not be utilized as a primary barrier, although it has successfully been used as a secondary barrier around plants, etc.

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