Rescue team members join Asiwa on the barge trip to the conservancy. Ami Vitale / Save Giraffes Now
In an adventurous boat rescue, wildlife and conservationist groups worked together to rescue a giraffe from its flooded rangeland in Kenya. Asiwa, a female Rothschild’s giraffe, had been stranded by herself on Longicharo Island, a rocky lava pinnacle. Other stranded giraffes will also be rescued soon.
A team from the Texas-based nonprofit Save Giraffes Now worked with local area groups and community members to capture and move the 16-foot-tall giraffe to her new home in the Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy, a protected wildlife reserve.
“The rescue, particularly of Asiwa, who was trapped on an about one-acre island due to the flooding was challenging, as we did not want her to run into the water,” David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, tells Treehugger.
“We worked with Kenya Wildlife Service and Northern Rangelands Trust and sedated her and then put some guide ropes on her shoulders and a hood and then we got her on her feet, and slowly walked her to the specially made barge.”
Built by Ruko community members, the barge is made of rectangular steel floating atop empty drums for buoyancy. It has reinforced sides to keep the giraffe from jumping out. Boats on all sides of the barge gently maneuvered it during the four-mile trip to the 4,400-acre fenced sanctuary.
“Upon arrival, we removed the hood and she walked off to her new home,” O’Connor says.
Protecting the Giraffes
Rothschild’s giraffes once roamed from the Rift Valley of central-west Kenya across Uganda to the Nile River. Today, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are only about 1,400 adult animals left , but their numbers are increasing.1
Conservationists reintroduced the giraffes to the peninsula in 2011 , in hopes that the isolated area would protect them from poaching and increase their population numbers.1
But the animals faced breeding challenges. Eight calves have been born since then, but only two have survived. The others were believed to be lost to pythons, nutritional issues, and other natural causes.
More recently, rising lake levels have turned the peninsula into an island, trapping the giraffes. Asiwa was totally cut off from the rest of the giraffes so she was the first one to be rescued.
“When the giraffes were moved to the island it was a peninsula, but then the lake levels rose and it became an island, and the lake continued to rise,” O’Connor says. “For Asiwa, she was cut off from the rest of the giraffes on a low-lying part of the island, she would have been flooded. For the other giraffes on the bigger part of the island, in the dry season they do not have food and have to be supplementary fed.”
Coming Together in Conflict
For many years, the local communities in the Lake Baringo area were in constant conflict. But as the plight of the giraffes continued to deteriorate, the elders of the tribes brought the people together to work to protect the animals. They created the Ruko Community Conservancy, forming its name from the Rugus and Komolion areas the people inhabit.
Rangers from the conservancy have been taking food to the stranded giraffes and performing health checks to make sure they are OK. They are keeping them fed and healthy until they can also be moved to safety.
Two young juvenile females, Susan and Pasaka (also known as Easter), are scheduled to be moved later this week. Four remaining adult females (Nkarikoni, Nalangu, Awala, and Nasieku) and one adult male, Lbarnnoti, will be moved early next year.
Nkarikoni is seven months pregnant — about halfway through a 15-month gestation. If all goes well, the new calf will be born in the sanctuary.
“Save Giraffes Now and the Ruko community created a special 4,400-acre fenced giraffe sanctuary in the Ruko community,” says O’Connor.
“The community is behind these giraffes, and the sanctuary will be well protected. We hope as the giraffes in the sanctuary slowly increase in population, and conditions outside the sanctuary improve, we can release them into the broader Ruko Wildlife Conservancy.”