A mother and calf are the last of nine endangered giraffes to be transported to Kenya’s mainland as rising waters threaten their home island in Lake Baringo.
Using a custom-built barge, eight females and one male have been successfully rescued from the island, according to an emailed statement from Save Giraffes Now. The daring rescue—which took 15 months of planning and work—involved the Ruko Community Conservancy, the Northern Rangelands Trust, and Kenya Wildlife Service, in addition to the Dallas-based Save Giraffes Now.
As few as 2,100 Rothschild’s giraffes exist in Africa, of which just 800 live in Kenya. A subspecies of Northern giraffe, these critically endangered animals once inhabited the entire Western Rift Valley in Kenya and Uganda, but loss of habitat and poaching has significantly reduced their numbers.
Water levels in Lake Baringo have been rising for quite some time, but the situation began to worsen last year, prompting the relocation effort. Rising waters are flooding homes and businesses along the lake, while making life precarious for a small population of giraffes living on the island. Ruko rangers had been bringing food to the island, but this was eventually deemed an implausible solution for the long term. In addition to the expense involved, it was feared that the lack of food would lead to disease and the deteriorating health of the animals.
To make the rescue happen, the conservationists built the barge, dubbed the “GiRaft,” and set aside a 4,400-acre sanctuary located within the Ruko Conservancy. After Kenya Wildlife Service gave its approval, the first giraffe, named Asiwa, was floated off the island in December 2020. The barge rests atop 60 empty drums, and the sides are reinforced to prevent the lanky animals from falling overboard.
Each giraffe was acclimated to the barge beforehand, a task accomplished by providing them with generous amounts of treats in the form of acacia leaves, seeds pods, mangos. The food was placed on the barge and repeated daily until the giraffes were comfortable getting onto the barge of their own accord. A small boat pulls the barge and its long-necked passengers on the one-mile journey to the mainland.
The final floating involved Ngarikoni and her daughter Noelle, who was born in December. More precautions were needed to transport the duo owing to the tender age of the young giraffe.
“We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue,” David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, said in the statement. “With giraffe undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters, making this rescue an important step in supporting the survival of this species.”
With the giraffes relocated, conservationists are now hoping to populate the park with more Rothschild’s giraffes sourced from other regions in Kenya, in order to reinvigorate the gene pool. Eventually, and assuming all goes well, the giraffes will be released into the Greater Rift Valley ecosystem. Meanwhile, revenue generated from the resulting tourism will be allocated to the conservancy and to the local community to pay for healthcare and education.
Seems like a good deal for everyone, given an unfortunate situation.