Intense flooding is threatening Longicharo Island. Nearby Kenyan villages are disappearing and with them, the area’s wildlife. So an entire community is working to save some very long-necked residents stranded there. And the rescuers appear to be taking a cue from Noah’s ark.
Fewer and fewer giraffes are surviving in Africa. For years, they’ve been losing their native land to poachers and developers. One of the most threatened subspecies of these tall creatures is the Rothschild’s giraffe. There are only about 1,600 of these giraffes still living in the wild. Almost half of those live in Kenya.
In 2011, scientists relocated eight Rothschild’s giraffes to a landmass in Kenya’s Lake Baringo. At the time, the area was larger and connected to the mainland, so it was a peninsula. But powerful flooding has threatened both people and wildlife. The giraffes became stranded on what became Longicharo Island. As waters rose, the island began shrinking.
Rangers in the Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy visited Longicharo. They provided food and performed health checkups for the giraffes. But with more flooding forecast, the rangers decided to remove the animals before it was too late.
That’s when the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Northern Rangelands Trust, and the nonprofit organization Save Giraffes Now teamed up with local residents for a strange ferry ride.
The team needed a giraffe-safe barge—and willing animals—for the daring rescue. The Ruko folks built a custom barge for the mission.
David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, calls the boat an engineering marvel. It required tall fencing to help keep a giraffe from tipping over. “The rectangular steel structure was designed and built specifically to carry tall, heavy giraffe,” he says. “The barge floats atop a series of empty drums for buoyancy. Reinforced sides kept [the giraffe] from jumping out as the barge was gently maneuvered.”
The team took months helping the animals first adjust to seeing the barge on the island. Then they used mangoes to coax giraffes onto the boat.
The preparation worked. When it was time, the first giraffe aboard was one named Asiwa.
“We sailed Asiwa over a mile of crocodile-ridden waters to the newly established Ruko giraffe sanctuary,” O’Connor says. “Our team was there the whole way to ensure Asiwa was safe.”
Since Asiwa’s rescue, Pasaka has come over too. The plan is to ferry the others over one by one. Rescuers hope the giraffes will someday help re-populate the region. But with lake levels still rising, saving them is a race against time.