Last Two Giraffes Rescued From a Disappearing Island in Kenya

The land mass was once a peninsula in Lake Baringo, but rising waters turned it into a muddy island

A photograph of the barge carrying a giraffe and being pulled by a red motorboat
The rescue team named their giraffe-carrying vessel the "GiRaft." Photo by Northern Rangelands Trust

On April 12, wildlife authorities and conservationists completed a tall task: ferrying the final two giraffes off of a sinking island in Lake Baringo, Kenya, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo.

For many years, Rothschild’s giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) have lived on a peninsula in the lake. The lake's water levels had been slowly rising over time, but in 2020, torrential rains caused severe flooding, covering a stretch of the giraffes’ peninsula and turning the end into a muddy, shrinking island. Nine giraffes became stranded with limited resources available for survival. Planning the complex rescue mission took 15 months to coordinate and implement.

Now, the last two individuals—a mother and a calf, named Ngarikoni and Noelle—stuck on a remote part of the land mass have been safely transported to the mainland.

When the giraffes reached the shore, they galloped out onto the 4,400-acre Ruko Wildlife Sanctuary, where conservation groups involved in the project hope to support a growing population of the endangered subspecies.

When the giraffes first became stranded on the island, Ruko wildlife rangers began delivering food for them, per Gizmodo. But they soon realized the need for a more sustainable long-term solution. The flood became severe last year, damaging businesses and homes along the shore of the lake, and one giraffe, named Asiwa, became separated from the rest of herd when flooding bisected the island once again.

Convincing a 14-foot-tall animal to get on a boat is no small feat, however. First, the team needed to develop a vessel fit for the task. The result, a barge that is kept afloat by 60 empty drums, decked-out with reinforced walls and pulled by a motorboat, was named the “GiRaft.”

To guide the animals to the raft, the team first had to sedate them, and then quickly apply a reversal drug. (When a giraffe is tranquilized and falls to the ground, it is in danger of choking on its own saliva, or being harmed by a change of blood pressure to its brain.) During the brief period when a giraffe is sedated, the team covers its face with a blindfold and sets up guide ropes around its shoulders. Then when the giraffe is able to walk, the team guides it to the raft.

When the rescue brought Asiwa to the raft, “she was incredible,” said O’Connor to CNN’s Ami Vitale in December. “She's a very, very tough girl. … Once we got her onto a more open space where there was an established track, she just walked straight onto the barge. Sometimes it looked like someone was walking a puppy on a Sunday afternoon. It was amazing.”

Rescue workers accompanied the GiRaft on its one-mile journey to shore by standing on the steel beams or boating alongside in kayaks and canoes.

As Mindy Weisberger reports for Live Science, the Rothschild’s giraffe has lost about 80 percent of its population in the last 30 years, making it one of the most imperiled giraffe subspecies. Out of a population of less than 3,000 animals, 800 live in Kenya. Now that the once-stranded giraffes are on the mainland, the conservation groups hope to relocate other giraffes of the same subspecies to the wildlife sanctuary to support a healthy, genetically diverse population.

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