Stranded Endangered Mother Rothschild’s Giraffe & Calf Are Saved During Heroic Rescue From Flooded Island In Kenya

Photos By: Northern Rangelands Trust

A remarkable rescue came to an end yesterday when the last of nine critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe were safely relocated from a flooded Kenyan island by Save Giraffes Now and its conservation partners.

Little Noelle, a giraffe calf that was born around Christmas 2020, and her mother, Ngarikoni, were the last to board a custom-built barge due to the extra care needed to move such a young giraffe. Relief and elation emanated from the rescue team as little Noelle stepped confidently off the barge and onto dry land, followed by her mother, marking the successful conclusion of this ambitious rescue.

The project took about 15 months to complete including planning and rescue of the giraffes from their shrinking island in Lake Baringo. In early 2020, Save Giraffes Now partnered with local Ruko Community Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, and Kenya Wildlife Service, which made this important mission possible. This incredible achievement involved sketching out the innovative rescue, from designing and building the barge, named “The GiRaft,” to creating a 4,400-acre sanctuary on the mainland for the animals.

“We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue,” David O’Connor, President of Save Giraffes Now, which works on over 20 giraffe conservation projects in nine African countries, said in a 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.”

Ruko rangers worked hard to make sure that each animal was used to the barge beforehand, leaving their favorite treats on board every day so they would be comfortable getting on and off the vessel voluntarily.

Each giraffe boarded the steel barge, which then piloted approximately one mile to a 4,400-acre fenced sanctuary within the 44,000-acre Ruko Conservancy. The steel barge, built by the community, was designed specifically to carry tall, heavy giraffe. It floats atop 60 empty drums, for buoyancy, with reinforced sides that kept the giraffe safe inside as the barge was gently pulled along by boats.

Water levels in Lake Baringo have been rising for some time, but in 2020, the rate increased – flooding lakeshore homes, businesses, and threatening the lives of the small group of Rothschild’s giraffe on Longicharo Island, in Ruko Community Conservancy.

“Ruko is an example of how much peace is linked to everything else – conservation, livelihoods, business, gender equality, governance. It all starts with peace,” stated Rebby Sebei, manager of Ruko Community Conservancy.

Their peace-building efforts were so successful that in 2011, Kenya Wildlife Service granted permission for eight Rothschild’s giraffe to be moved to Ruko for a community-led conservation initiative – the first-of-its-kind for giraffes in Kenya.

But as rising water levels cut off their peninsula home from the mainland, Ruko rangers had to supplement the giraffe’s food as natural browse became scarce. Not only was this financially unsustainable for Ruko, experts feared that nutritional deficiencies were affecting the immune defenses and overall health of the animals.

Realizing a rescue effort was inevitable, the community set aside land to build a new giraffe sanctuary on the mainland. The building of the sanctuary provided employment to many local laborers and will employ dedicated sanctuary rangers to monitor the giraffes.

Approval to move the giraffes was granted by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS),and the first giraffe, Asiwa, was moved in December without incident. This set the tone for the rest of the moves, and one by one the giraffes were floated to safety.

“KWS is keen to grow the numbers of Rothschild’s giraffe in the country,” said Dr. Isaac Lekolool, Senior Veterinary Officer for Kenya Wildlife Service. “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 Sanctuaryis a model conservation initiative worth replicating elsewhere.”

The long-term plan is to introduce other Rothschild’s giraffes from elsewhere in Kenya, in order to build up a genetically healthy population of giraffe in the sanctuary that can eventually be released into the greater Rift Valley ecosystem.

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

Rothschild’s (Nubian) giraffe are a dwindling subspecies of the Northern giraffe that once roamed the entire western Rift Valley in Kenya and into Uganda. Today, fewer than 3,000 are left in Africa,with only about 800 remaining in Kenya.

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