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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out this cool video of a giraffe rescue in Kenya as a group of conservationists ferry Asiwa to safety from a flooding island to the nearby Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy. Video Credit: Tyler Schiffman, Ami Vitale / Save Giraffes Now pic.twitter.com/Of6Iz1c0y6
— Aylin Woodward (@AylinWoodward) January 31, 2021