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ANTWERP: Amid all the hand-wringing from businessmen and politicians about potential risks from a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, zookeepers are worried too — especially for a group of rare forest giraffes.

Seventy-three “okapis” — an endangered species from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a brown body and zebra-like striped legs — live in zoos in the European Union where free movement rules underpin an inter-country breeding project.

So if Britain, which has 15 of them, exits the bloc without a transition deal, it would probably be cut out of the project, according to Sander Hofman, general curator of Antwerp Zoo in Belgium, who coordinates okapi relocation for reproduction.

“Brexit is very bad news for conservation breeding,” he said at the zoo, as elephants munched behind him.

“Fifteen out of my 73 (okapis) are in the UK. You can imagine that if I need to remove these 15, it would be a big blow for my population but it would be even worse for the UK colleagues,” he said.

In the EU, around 350 zoos are part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), which allows transport of animals throughout the bloc for breeding purposes.

Britain is a big player, with around 40 member zoos, including Chester, one of the largest in Europe.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2019