So far, two of the eight stranded giraffes have made the 4-mile barge trek from the flooded island to their new sanctuary home on the mainland

By Kelli Bender
December 03, 2020 04:17 PM
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Credit: Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

It's two down six to go for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Save Giraffes Now, and the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT).

The three conservation groups — a Kenyan state wildlife organization, a U.S. nonprofit, and a non-government African conservation group respectively — are in the midst of an unusual rescue of eight Rothschild’s giraffes that ended up stranded on an island in Kenya's Lake Baringo due to flooding. The animals ended up in this precarious position because of recent heavy rains, which have caused the lake's water levels to rise 6 inches every day and have turned the peninsula the giraffes live on into an island, cutting off the Rothschild’s giraffes, a dwindling subspecies, from the resources they need.

The stranded animals are part of a group of Rothschild’s giraffes that were relocated to the area in 2011,  in hopes that the remote area would protect the animals from poachers and help increase the subspecies' population. Rothschild's giraffes once roamed the entire western Rift Valley in Kenya, but there are fewer than 3,000  left in Africa today, with only about 800 in Kenya.

Over the past two days, conservationists with KWS, Save Giraffes Now, and (NRT) collaborated with local community members to complete the monumental task of floating two of the stranded giraffes from the flooded rangeland to a sanctuary that is part of the Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy, a protected wildlife reserve, according to a release from Save Giraffes Now.

The first giraffe to arrive "safely on the mainland, safe from rising floodwaters" was an adult female named Asiwa, who was stranded on a more remote part of the island, away from the other giraffes, making her rescue a priority.

Credit: Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

"There is great urgency to execute this rescue," said David O’Connor, president of the Dallas, Texas-based Save Giraffes Now, on the day of Asiwa's move. "We couldn’t have asked for a better result, and we’re eager to move the others soon. With giraffes undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters."

Asiwa's rescue was followed up by Pasaka's. Like Asiwa, this juvenile giraffe was floated to a sanctuary that is part of the Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy in a custom steel barge, built by the local Ruko community to rescue the animals.

Save Giraffes Now reports that the barge "is an engineering marvel, designed and built specifically to carry tall, heavy giraffes. The rectangular steel structure floats atop a series of empty drums, for buoyancy." Plus, reinforced sides keep giraffes from jumping out as the barge is gently maneuvered by boats on the four-mile trip to the sanctuary.

Credit: Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

The same barge will likely be used to move the six giraffes — five females, Susan, Nkarikoni, Nalangu, Awala, and Nasieku, and one adult male, Lbarnnoti — still stranded on the ever-shrinking island. Save Giraffes Now says at least one more giraffe is set to be moved this week, with the rest likely making the barge trek early next year.

"Each giraffe has its own personality,"  said Susan Myers, Save Giraffes Now's founder and CEO. "Some are very timid, while others are brave and go onto the barge readily. This is a painstaking process, and the team is being very deliberate about the training."

According to Save Giraffes Now, everyone involved in the first two rescues is dedicated to saving every stranded giraffe, both for the safety of the affected animals and for giraffes as a whole.

"In 40 to 50 years, we hope to have repopulated the entire Western Rift Valley through the chain of community conservancies," O’Connor said, speaking of the local, national and international conservationists who have come together to save these giraffes. "It’s unthinkable to imagine an Africa without giraffes, and this rescue may well help ensure the future of this species."