Endangered Giraffes in Kenya Rafted To Safety Through Crocodile-Infested Waters

A 44,000-acre wildlife sanctuary came under threat when floods began shrinking the island where it was located. To make matters worse, it had a small population of Rothschild’s giraffes, the most endangered giraffe species in the world. They had to be rescued.

The barge includes tall fencing to keep the giraffe from falling over. She was sedated and had a hood placed on her to keep her calm during the mile-long journey across the lake. Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

The ever-shrinking Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy, which was established in 2006, was home to a small population of Rothschild’s giraffes, a species on the verge of extinction. There are estimated to be just 1,600 of these animals left in the wild, 800 of which are confined to Kenya and so protecting each and every last one of them has long been a priority for conservationists.

The giraffes arrived on Longicharo Island back in 2011 to live out their days on what was once a large landmass in Lake Baringo. However, due to intense flooding the river started reclaiming the land and putting both wildlife and resident humans at risk.

Giraffe on a raft. Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

To tide the animals over while a plan of action was established, rangers regularly boated to the island and back to keep the stranded giraffes topped up with food and check on their health. With more floods on the horizon, it was clear that it was time to get the giraffes out of there, so conservationists, government officials, and local community members united their forces to design a raft to rescue the animals from the shrinking island.

Then, they made the first successful rescue of a giraffe named Asiwa, followed by the rest of the stranded giraffes. But it wasn’t an easy feat.

With their long legs and and even longer necks, giraffes don’t have the best center of gravity for rafting, to say the least. To get around this, the team created a rectangular structure that would remain afloat and upright with one giant animal and several humans on board – a nail-biting challenge when having to cross crocodile-infested waters. They used a combination of steel and empty drums for buoyancy, and the final creation was declared sea-worthy with the intention to gently guide it across the water by surrounding boats.

However, when you’re transporting an unwilling passenger, even the most giraffe-friendly raft will be at risk – so the team had to make sure the animals wouldn’t get spooked once on board. To get them used to castaway life, they spent several months familiarizing them with the barge and used a giraffe hood to cover the animal’s eyes en route to safety.

How did the giraffe cross the crocodile-infested water? By girafft! Ami Vitale/Save Giraffes Now

Thanks to the dedication of the collaborating governing bodies and local community, the giraffes are completing the journey through crocodile country one by one. On the other side, they are received by a newly-established Ruko Giraffe Sanctuary, which will eventually house and protect all eight of the castaway Rothschilds.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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