Successful Rescue of Giraffes Stranded on Vanishing Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Climate change has drastically shifted the rainfall patterns across the world- with some regions getting unusually heavy rains and others barely receiving any rainfall. Kenya’s Rift valley lakes have fallen victim to these climatic issues. Recently, rescue of nine stranded giraffes from the Longicharo Island in Lake Baringo was completed successfully as the water flooded the island.

According to the locals, the lake level has been steadily rising for the past seven years. The rising water level poses a threat to homes in the proximity of the lake, livelihoods, tourism industry, infrastructure and loss of terrestrial wildlife habitats. In 2020, the lake level rise has displaced over 5,000 people, destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, hotels, roads and even entire islands.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Boats surround the barge on the day of Asiwa’s rescue | Image: Ami Vitale

For years, nine members of endangered Rothschild giraffe species had been living on the sinking island in Lake Baringo. However, when the water level started getting awfully close and made it difficult to forage for food, conservationists teamed up with Kenyan wildlife authorities and local members of the community to rescue the giraffes and move them into a new sanctuary within the 44,000-acre Ruko conservancy.

Along with the nonprofit Save Giraffes Now (SGN), the authorities launched the rescue plan to return trapped giraffes from the flooding Longicharo Island. A special barge dubbed the “GiRaft” was built for the rescue. Resting upon 60 empty drums, the sides of the barge are reinforced to prevent the animals from falling in the water.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

The rescue operation took 15 months of planning and work | Image: Ami Vitale

David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, said,

We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue. With giraffe undergoing a silent extinction, everyone we can protect matters, making this rescue an important step in supporting the survival of this species.

A subspecies of Northern giraffe, Rothschild giraffes are critically endangered animals that once inhabited the entire Western Rift Valley in Kenya and Uganda; but due to habitat loss and poaching, there are only 2,100 Rothschild giraffes exist in Africa, 800 of which live in Kenya.

After Kenya Wildlife Service gave its approval for the operation, the first giraffe called Asiwa, was sailed off the island in December 2020. Recently, the last two moth-calf duo were transported to Kenya’s mainland.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

David O’Connor, the president of Save Giraffes Now, keeping an eye on Asiwa | Image: Ami Vitale

Using the custom-built barge, eight females and one male have been successfully rescued from the island. The daring rescue operation took 15 months of planning and work and involved the Ruko Community Conservancy, the Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service and SGN.

As the water levels rose last year, the safety of the giraffes on the island was threatened. While the authorities planned on a rescue plan, Ruko rangers have been bringing food to the animals.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Conservationists keeping an eye on the hooded Asiwa during the lake crossing | Image: Ami Vitale

When finally the rescue plan began, each giraffe was acclimated to the barge beforehand, by providing a generous amount of food including acacia leaves, seedpods, mangoes, etc. The ritual was performed every day until the animals were comfortable getting onto the barge of free will. Then, a small boat pulled the barge, making a one-mile journey to the mainland and releasing the giraffes into safety. The last two passengers involved Ngarikoni and her daughter Noelle, who was born in December. The rescue team had to prepare more cautiously to transport the duo.

With the giraffes relocated into the new sanctuary, conservationists aim to populate the park with more giraffes of the species brought in from other regions in Kenya, in order to refresh the gene pool. If all goes well, these animals will be released to their ancient home in the Greater Rift Valley ecosystem.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

A giraffe being transported from the flooding island to safety | Image: Northern Rangelands Trust

With the success of the rescue, the teams are relieved. The rangers have reported that the animals are healthy, happy, and thriving in the mainland sanctuary. With photos of the operation going viral on social media, the efforts of the rescue team are being applauded worldwide.

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Asiwa being attended to after being hit with a tranquilizer dart on the day of her rescue | Image: Ami Vitale

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Pasaka, a younger giraffe, being rescued | Image: Ami Vitale

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Excited giraffe jumps from the barge on reaching mainland | Image: Northern Rangelands Trust

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Five-month-old Noella runs after being transported on the barge | Image: Northern Rangelands Trust

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

The rangers have reported that the animals are healthy, happy and thriving in the mainland sanctuary | Image: Save Giraffes Now

Successful Rescue of Stranded Giraffes on Island in Kenya’s Lake Baringo

Aerial view of the flooded Longicharo Island in Lake Baringo that the giraffes have been stranded on | Image: Ami Vitale

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