In a tale with big Noah energy, a 44,000-acre wildlife sanctuary came under threat when floods began shrinking the island on which it sat. To make matters worse, the ever-shrinking Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy, which was established in 2006, was home to a small population of Rothschild's giraffes, the most endangered giraffe species in the world. There are estimated to be just 1,600 of these animals left in the wild, 800 of which are confined to Kenya and so protecting each and every last one of them has long been a priority for conservationists.
The giraffes first arrived on Longicharo Island back in 2011 to live out their days on what was once a large landmass in Lake Baringo. However, intense flooding has seen the river reclaiming the land and putting both wildlife and resident humans at risk.
To tide the animals over while a plan of action was established, rangers regularly boated to the island and back to keep the stranded giraffes topped up with food and check on their health. With more floods on the horizon, it was clear that it was time to get the giraffes out of there, and so a collaborative effort from Kenya Wildlife Service, the Northern Rangelands Trust, and Save Giraffes Now began working on designs for a raft.
With their long legs and unique necks, giraffes don’t have the best center of gravity for rafting. To tackle this, the team got to work creating a rectangular structure that would remain afloat and upright with one giant animal and several smaller humans on board. A nail-biting challenge when faced with crocodile-infested waters. Using a combination of steel and empty drums for buoyancy, the final creation was declared sea-worthy with the intention it would be gently guided across the water by surrounding boats.
However, even the most giraffe-friendly raft is still a risk if you’re transporting an unwilling passenger, so they also had to make sure the animals wouldn't get spooked once on board. To get them used to castaway life, they spent several months familiarizing them with the barge and secured a giraffe hood that would cover their eyes en route to safety.
All seemed in place and so it was time for the first attempt with an adult named Asiwa who was lightly sedated before the journey to ensure there were no dramatic attempts to leap overboard. Thanks to the dedication of the collaborating governing bodies and local community, Asiwa safely completed the journey, which took her over a mile through crocodile country. On the other side, she was received by a newly-established Ruko Giraffe Sanctuary, which will eventually house and protect all eight of the castaway Rothschilds.