Endangered giraffes are trapped on an island in Kenya's Lake Baringo. Photos show how rescuers are ferrying them to safety.

Aylin Woodward
·5 min read
giraffe rescue
A giraffe named Asiwa is ferried to the Ruko Conservancy in Kenya, December 2020. Ami Vitale/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now
  • A group of endangered giraffes got marooned on an island in Kenya's Lake Baringo.

  • Rising waters are flooding more and more of the island, so conservationists hatched a daring rescue operation.

  • Groups are working together to ferry the animals off the island. Three of nine giraffes have been saved so far.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In Kenya's Lake Baringo, a daring rescue is underway.

A group of endangered Rothschild's giraffes is trapped on a shrinking island, as rising waters flood more and more of their habit and wipe out their food sources.

So conservationists from the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Northern Rangelands Trust float, and the nonprofit organization Save Giraffes Now hatched a plan: they would build a barge and ferry the animals to the mainland one by one with the help of local residents.

So far, three giraffes - Asiwa, Pasaka, and Lbarnoti - have made it off the island and been released into a sanctuary in the nearby Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy.

"It's heartening to have three safely moved, but we won't rest until the other six are safe at Ruko Conservancy, as well," David O'Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, said in a press release.

giraffe rescue @kieran.avery
Conservationists keep an eye on the hooded Asiwa during the lake crossing. Kieran Avery (@kieran.avery)/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

Photos show how O'Connor and his colleagues worked together to get three giant giraffes across crocodile-invested waters to safety.

A shrinking island

On Wednesday, the 16-foot-tall Lbarnoti made his journey across the lake.

giraffe rescue
Lbarnoti's partner, Nkarikoni, and his calf, Noelle, on Longicharo Island in Lake Baringo. Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

His newborn calf, Noelle, and partner, Nkarikoni, are still on the island, named Longicharo.

Longicharo wasn't always cut off from the mainland; a decade ago it was an isolated peninsula.

In 2011, conservationists relocated Lbarnoti and other Rothschild's giraffes there in the hopes that the endangered animals would be protected from poachers.

But last fall, intense rain storms started raising the water level of the surrounding lake. The peninsula became an island.

Rising waters continued to flood the island, rising up to six inches a day. As the island shrinks - it used to be 100 acres in size, there's now less than eight acres of land left - there's less and less food available for its inhabitants.

At first, conservationists ferried over extra food and monitored the giraffes' health. But a steady rate of lake-level rise meant the animals would soon run out of habitat (and acacia trees to eat), which prompted the recent rescue missions.

An endangered giraffe boat

giraffe rescue
Boats accompany Asiwa on her journey from Longicharo Island. Ami Vitale/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

Giraffes can swim - but the waters of Lake Baringo are filled with predators, and the conservationists wanted to ensure they moved the Longicharo giraffes to a safe, new home.

That's where the giraffe boat comes in: a rectangular, steel barge that sits atop empty, buoyant drums with giraffe-sized reinforced walls that prevented the animals from jumping out.

Rothschild giraffes are among the tallest giraffe species; they can reach heights of 19 feet and weigh up to 2.5 tons.

giraffe rescue @kieran.avery
A steel barge with reinforced walls helped transport Asiwa to Ruko Conservancy. Kieran Avery (@kieran.avery)/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

Maneuvering the giraffes onto the barge was no easy task; locals who built the boat brought it and left it on the island shores ahead of the move, so the animals could get used to it.

But Asiwa, the first giraffe to leave the island in December 1, had to be sedated before she could take her journey.

Conservationists covered her head with a burlap hood to help keep her calm during the move. They used ropes to guide Asiwa on and off the barge. A juvenile giraffe named Pasaka traveled the same way the next day.

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Conservationists fitted Asiwa with a hood to keep her calm during the journey. Kieran Avery (@kieran.avery)/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

Not every giraffe was as skittish as Asiwa, though. Lbarnoti, the male that got rescued Wednesday, walked on and off the boat of his own accord.

He didn't need sedation or a hood, and happily munched acacia seed pod treats during the journey.

"Each giraffe has its own personality," Susan Myers, Save Giraffes Now founder and CEO, said in a press release.

giraffe rescue
Lbarnoti hangs out on the giraffe barge, January 2021. Kieran Avery (@kieran.avery)/Courtesy of Save Giraffes Now

"Some are very timid, while others are brave and go onto the barge readily," she added.

Myers's group is now making plans to rescue the five female giraffes - Susan, Nkarikoni, Nalangu, Awala and Nasieku - still left on the island.

But they have to wait for Lbarnoti's calf, Noelle, to grow older before sending her across on the boat.

Noelle wasn't the only giraffe born on the island, but she's the only one still alive. Two other calves were either eaten by pythons or starved to death, according to Save Giraffes Now.

The non-profit said there are fewer than 3,0000 Rothschild's giraffes left in Africa, and about 800 left in Kenya. They are some of the most endangered giraffes in the world, which means these rescues from Longicharo island are critical.

"There is great urgency to execute this rescue," O'Connor said. "With giraffes undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters."

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