A bold rescue operation is underway in Kenya to save eight rare giraffes trapped on an island by rising crocodile-infested floods.
The international team of conservationists, wildlife experts and members of the local community have already succeeded in rescuing one of the 16-foot tall giraffes using a specially designed, handmade steel barge.
Now, however, it is a race against time to save the other seven giraffes in a situation that the Texas-based non-profit conservation organization Save Giraffes Now has called “life or death.
The animals belong to an endangered subspecies of the northern giraffe, known as Rothschild giraffes (Nubian giraffes). There are less than 800 giraffes in Kenya and 2,000 on the entire continent.
The giraffes were introduced into an area around Lake Baringo in western Kenya in 2011, with conservationists hoping that the isolated location would protect them from poaching and increase their numbers.
Recently, heavy rains have caused the lake’s water to rise steadily up to six inches per day, cutting off a piece of land on which the giraffes are now trapped.
In response, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Save Giraffes Now, the Kenyan non-profit Northern Rangelands Trust and local members of the Ruko community have joined forces to launch a rescue operation to save the animals and bring them to a 4,400-acre fenced sanctuary about four miles away.
Since the newly established island was cut off from the surrounding land, conservationists have been keeping the giraffes alive by providing them with food and routine health checks.
Meanwhile, members of the Ruko community built a special barge to save the animals. The barge consists of a rectangular steel structure that floats on a series of empty barrels with reinforced side walls to prevent the giraffes from jumping out.
On Wednesday, the rescue team used this special barge to rescue one of the giraffes called Asiwa, which was stranded alone on a separate part of the newly formed island.
“Fortunately, the rescue got off to a fantastic start, as Asiwa was the most endangered giraffe isolated on an island that was flooded, leaving her less than an acre of land. The Ruko community is so happy that they are now safe. Let’s hope the days ahead will pass,” David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, told Washington Newsday.
Two more giraffes will be transferred tomorrow, and the team plans to save the rest in the coming weeks.
“There is great urgency to make this rescue,” O’Connor said in a statement. “We could not have asked for a better result and we are anxious to move the others soon. Since the giraffe is experiencing silent extinction, we can protect each one.”