One of the final Rothschild's giraffes to make the trip from the flooded Kenyan island to a new sanctuary in a custom barge is a calf born on the island in December

By Kelli Bender
April 13, 2021 02:36 PM
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Giraffe rescue float
Credit: Northern Rangeland Trust

Nine endangered Rothschild's giraffes are finally back on solid ground.

The efforts to rescue the animals started 15 months ago after rising waters caused flooding around Kenya's Lake Baringo in early 2020. According to a release from Save Giraffes Now — a non-profit committed to saving giraffes from extinction — the flooding stranded a group of Rothschild's giraffes on the lake's Longicharo Island, cutting the animals off from the resources they needed to survive.

After learning of the giraffes' dire situation, Save Giraffes Now, the Ruko Community Conservancy, the Northern Rangelands Trust, and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) worked together to make a rescue plan. The fruits of this collaboration resulted in the creation of a custom barge (named "The GiRaft") and a 4,400-acre sanctuary on the mainland for the animals.

Rescuers used The GiRaft to float the animals, one by one, from the flooded island to the fenced sanctuary built for them within the 44,000-acre Ruko Conservancy.

"We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue," David O'Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, said in a statement. "With giraffe undergoing a silent extinction, everyone we can protect matters, making this rescue an important step in supporting the survival of this species."

Giraffe rescue float
Credit: Northern Rangeland Trust

Ruko rangers introduced The GiRaft to the animals before they boarded, leaving the giraffes' favorite treats inside the barge, so they got used to the idea of getting on and off the vessel voluntarily. In December 2020, they started floating the animals to the sanctuary, only moving the giraffes when it was safe.

Giraffe rescue float
Credit: Northern Rangeland Trust

On April 12, the rescue mission came to an end when the last giraffe stepped off The GiRaft and into the sanctuary. Among the final giraffes to make the trek was Noelle, a giraffe calf born on the flooded island around Christmastime. Rescuers waited until the calf was strong enough the make the barge journey to the sanctuary comfortably before moving her.

Giraffe rescue float
Credit: Northern Rangeland Trust

Now, all of the giraffes are together again inside their new sanctuary, where rangers say the animals are looking happy and healthy. Protecting this group is especially important with so few Rothschild's giraffes left in the world. Today, fewer than 3,000 of these giraffes are left in Africa, with only about 800 in Kenya, per Save Giraffes Now.

Giraffe rescue float
Credit: Northern Rangeland Trust

"KWS is keen to grow the numbers of Rothschild giraffes in the country," Dr. Isaac Lekolool, senior veterinary officer for Kenya Wildlife Service, said in a statement. "The management of Ruko Sanctuary, in collaboration with the local community, has done a commendable job in efforts to conserve this rare species. Indeed, Ruko Sanctuary is a model conservation initiative worth replicating elsewhere."

"Not only did this groundbreaking project save these giraffes, but it also marks their reintroduction to the mainland for the first time in 70 years," O'Connor added. "This rescue is a significant success for both of those reasons."

From here, the long-term goal for the groups that rescued these giraffes is to introduce other Rothschild's giraffes from elsewhere in Kenya to those living in the sanctuary. These introductions will help build a genetically healthy population of giraffes that can eventually be released into the greater ecosystem outside the sanctuary.

To learn more about Save Giraffes Now and their partners' work on this project, visit Save Giraffes Now's project website