Rescuers build custom barge to save 9 critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffes from sinking island

Rothschild’s giraffes used to wander across Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan in massive herds. But that was three decades ago.

The situation looks a lot different now, as the Rothschild’s giraffe population has dropped by around 80% in the last three decades.

Because of this, experts say they’re “arguably one of the most imperiled giraffe subspecies.” Sadly, only about 3,000 of them remain in Kenya and Uganda today.

A young giraffe
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A small herd of Rothschild’s giraffes has lived on Longicharo Island in Lake Baringo, Kenya, since 2011. However, as climate change worsens, the lake’s waters continue to rise, causing the island where these giraffes live to slowly start to sink.

This cuts the herd off from food sources and leads to repeated flooding in their habitat.

Animal activists knew they needed to act before these critically endangered animals further dwindle in numbers. So, 15 months ago, Save Giraffes Now, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Ruko Community Conservancy, and the Northern Rangelands Trust came together to craft a rescue plan.

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Their brainstorming resulted in creating a customized barge known as the “GiRaft,” which is a barge with very tall walls that would be kept afloat by 60 empty drums and towed by boats.

Of course, the giraffes had to get acquainted with the barge first to make the relocation process easier. So, rescuers filled it with treats and left it afloat on the shore for days, allowing the mammals to get comfortable walking in and out of the barge independently.

Then, they started luring over the giraffes one by one and trapping them aboard. After securing them into the raft, the animals are floated 1 mile across the lake toward the Ruko Community Conservancy, a 44,000-acre sanctuary located on higher ground.

A Rothschild giraffe in a custom barge on a lake
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In December 2020, a female giraffe named Asiwa made the journey to her new home.

Gradually, seven giraffes were brought to the sanctuary. The last pair left was a mother named Nkarikoni and her calf, Noelle, born on the flooded island around Christmastime. The rescuers waited until she was strong enough to make the trip.

Finally, on April 12, 2021, the rescue mission came to an end when mama giraffe and her little one were floated to their new home!

Save Giraffes Now shared the happy news on their Instagram:

“We are thrilled to announce that all 9 #RukoGiraffe have been floated safely to the mainland! They are safely off their flooding island and at their new home, a 4,400-acre sanctuary at Ruko Community Conservancy, where they have been reunited and will live happily ever after!”

A Rothschild giraffe in a custom barge on a lake
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Efforts like these are crucial if mankind hopes to save endangered species like the Rothschild’s giraffe.

According to Save Giraffes Now president David O’Connor, giraffes are going through a “silent extinction,” so each one that can be saved matters.

This rescue operation is also significant because it united two communities in Kenya—the Njemps and Pokot—that have been locked in conflict for generations. Despite their differences, they were able to work together toward the common goal of saving the Rothschild’s giraffes.

Now, rangers say the giraffes are looking happy and healthy in their new habitat.

“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 Sanctuary is a model conservation initiative worth replicating elsewhere,” said Dr. Isaac Lekolool, senior veterinary officer for Kenya Wildlife Service.

A Rothschild giraffe hopping out of a barge
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According to Dr. Lekolool, this project also marks the reintroduction of these giraffes to the mainland for the first time in 70 years.

The long-term goal of the rescue group is to introduce other Rothschild’s giraffes from other places in Kenya to those living in the Ruko Community Conservancy. This will help create a genetically healthy population of giraffes that can eventually be released into another environment outside the sanctuary.

If you want to learn more about Save Giraffes Now and its partners in this rescue operation, you can visit the organization’s project website.

Please share this story with your family and friends.

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