Rescue efforts are under way in Kenya to free eight giraffes that have been stranded on an island by crocodile-infested floodwaters that are expected to rise.
One of the 16-foot-tall giraffes has already been rescued by an international team of conservationists, wildlife experts, and local residents utilizing a specially built, handcrafted steel barge. However, there is now a race against time to save the last seven giraffes in a “life or death” situation defined by the Texas-based conservation non-profit Save Giraffes Now.
It is estimated that there are less than 800 Rothschild’s (Nubian) giraffes in Kenya and 2,000 on the continent as a whole, a critically endangered subspecies of the Northern giraffe. Since their relocation to Lake Baringo in western Kenya in 2011, environmentalists had hoped that the giraffes will be safe from poaching and their population will rise.
Rains have led the lake’s waters to rise gradually up to six inches per day, resulting in an area of land being blocked off by the rising water. Kenya Wildlife Service has joined together with Save Giraffes Now, Kenyan non-profit Northern Rangelands Trust, and residents of the Ruko community to rescue the animals and move them to a 4,400-acre walled sanctuary about four miles away.
As a result of the island’s isolation, conservationists have been feeding the giraffes and performing regular health checks to ensure their survival. While this was going on, the people of Ruko constructed a special barge to rescue the pets. Reinforced sidewalls on the barge’s drums keep the animals from jumping out, while the steel structure floats on top of them.
On Wednesday, the rescue crew used this customized barge to retrieve one of the giraffes, Asiwa, who was stuck alone on a distant section of the newly formed island.
“Fortunately, the rescue is off to an excellent start, as Asiwa was the most endangered giraffe, stranded on an island that had flooded to the point that she had less than an acre remaining. The Ruko community is overjoyed that she has been rescued. “Here’s hope the next few days are similarly productive,” David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, told Newsweek.
Two more giraffes will be transferred tomorrow, and the rest of the animals will be rescued in the next few weeks.
“There is a tremendous sense of urgency in carrying out this rescue,” O’Connor said in a statement. “We couldn’t have wished for a better outcome, and we’re anxious to move the remaining units as quickly as possible. With the giraffe on the verge of extinction, every one we can save is critical.”