Wildlife conservationists take on a delicate operation to save giraffes stranded on an island in Kenya. 

By Michael Pincus.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is working in collaboration with Save Giraffes Now, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, and Kenya’s Northern Rangelands Trust to rescue giraffes stranded on an island in western Kenya.

The island in Lake Baringo, the second northernmost of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, was until recently a peninsula inhabited by eight rare Rothschild’s giraffes who ended up isolated when flooding severed their habitat from surrounding land. There are only 3,000 giraffes of the endangered subspecies left in Africa, with 800 located in Kenya.

Lake Baringo is experiencing accelerated flooding after recent heavy rains, which have increased the lake levels, threatening the island’s animal inhabitants. To rescue endangered giraffes from the island, the conservationists used a custom-made steel barge.

“Moving a giraffe is a delicate process. We have to survey the habitat and make sure we anchor the barge in a manner that makes it easy for the giraffes to enter without causing them unnecessary stress,” warden for the Kenya Wildlife Service in Baringo Jackson Komen said. “It took a whole day just to move one giraffe, with the barge taking at least two hours to get to the mainland. The remaining ones, including some pregnant females, will be moved a little later.”

According to The Guardian, Lake Turkana, located north of Lake Baringo, was six meters deeper by November 2020 than in years past. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2020 conservation outlook informs, “Lake Turkana’s unique qualities as a large lake in a desert environment are under threat as the demands for water for development escalate and the financial capital to build major dams becomes available.”

The first giraffe to be removed safely on the steel barge was named Asiwa, followed by a second giraffe named Pasaka. Six others remain, and efforts continue to safely remove the giraffes from the island and relocate them to new homes. One of the giraffes traveled four miles to its new home, a sanctuary within the 44,000-acre Ruko Conservancy.

“There is great urgency to execute this rescue,” president of Save Giraffes Now David O’Connor said in a statement. “With giraffes undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters.”