In The Press: Rescue success! Last of nine stranded giraffe floated off disappearing Kenya island by Save Giraffes Now, partners

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U.S. nonprofit joined Ruko Community Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service in saving critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe

LAKE BARINGO, Kenya (April 12, 2021)

A remarkable international rescue is finally complete today, as the last of nine critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe were floated to safety from their flooded Kenyan island by Save Giraffes Now and its conservation partners.

The last to catch the boat to their safe new home were little Noelle, a giraffe calf born at Christmastime, and her mother, Ngarikoni, due to the extra care needed to move such a young giraffe. Relief and elation emanated from the rescue team as little Noelle stepped confidently off the custom-built barge and onto dry land, followed by her mother, marking the successful conclusion of this ambitious rescue.

The 15-month project to rescue the giraffe from their shrinking island in Lake Baringo took more than a year to plan and complete. In early 2020, Save Giraffes Now invested with local Ruko Community Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service, which made this possible. This incredible achievement involved sketching out the innovative rescue, from designing and building the barge (named “The GiRaft”) to creating a 4,400-acre sanctuary on the mainland for the animals.

“We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue,” said David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, which works on over 20 giraffe conservation projects in nine African countries. “With giraffe undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters, making this rescue an important step in supporting the survival of this species.”

Ruko rangers worked hard to get each animal used to the barge beforehand, leaving their favorite treats (pellets, acacia leaves, seed pods, even mangos,) on board every day to get them used to the idea of getting on and off the vessel voluntarily.

Each gangly giraffe boarded the steel barge, which then piloted approximately one mile to a 4,400-acre fenced sanctuary within the 44,000-acre Ruko Conservancy. The steel barge, built by the community, was designed specifically to carry tall, heavy giraffe. It floats atop 60 empty drums, for buoyancy, and reinforced sides kept the giraffe safe inside as the barge was gently pulled along by boats.

Susan Myers, Save Giraffes Now founder and CEO, and the Ruko Community formed such a rapport developing this rescue project that when a giraffe calf was born last spring, the community named it “Susan.”

“I told them it was the greatest honor I had ever received in my life or ever would, and I fully stick by that,” Myers said. “We feel tremendous gratitude, joy and excitement that we’ve been able to rescue these giraffe.”

Susan and her other eight towermates (as groups of giraffe are called) are now together again and safely exploring the Ruko Conservancy, where they have plenty of food and more safety. The rangers report
that they have never seen the giraffe look so healthy and happy, and there’s no need for food supplementation, which will save the Conservancy money and ensure healthier animals.

Water levels in Lake Baringo have been rising for some time, but in 2020 the rate increased – flooding lakeshore homes, businesses, and threatening the lives of the small group of Rothschild’s giraffe on Longicharo Island, in Ruko Community Conservancy. Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy was established after the Il Chamus and Pokot communities, ending years of conflict, came together to form a community conservancy that would provide a platform for collaborative governance, peace, equitable benefit sharing, and conservation. It is wholly owned by the communities. Ruko is also a member of the Northern Rangelands Trust, a network of community conservancies across northern Kenya.

“Ruko is an example of how much peace is linked to everything else – conservation, livelihoods, business, gender equality, governance. It all starts with peace,” says Rebby Sebei, manager of Ruko Community Conservancy.

Their peace-building efforts were so successful that in 2011, Kenya Wildlife Service granted permission for eight Rothschild’s giraffes to be moved to Ruko for a community-led conservation initiative – the first of its kind for giraffes in Kenya.

But as rising water levels cut off their peninsula home from the mainland, Ruko rangers had to supplement the giraffe’s food as natural browse became scarce. Not only was this financially unsustainable for Ruko, experts feared that nutritional deficiencies were affecting the immune defenses and overall health of the animals.

Realizing a rescue effort was inevitable, the community set aside land to build a new giraffe sanctuary on the mainland. The building of the sanctuary provided employment to many local laborers and will employ dedicated sanctuary rangers to monitor the giraffes.

Approval to move the giraffes was granted by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and the first giraffe, Asiwa, was moved in December without incident. This set the tone for the rest of the moves, and one by one the giraffes were floated to safety.

With the eight females and one male safely on the mainland, Ruko and the Kenya Wildlife Service are looking to the future.

“KWS is keen to grow the numbers of Rothschild giraffe in the country,” said Dr. Isaac Lekolool, Senior Veterinary Officer for Kenya Wildlife Service. “The management of Ruko Sanctuary, in collaboration with the local community, has done a commendable job in efforts to conserve this rare species. Indeed, Ruko Sanctuary is a model conservation initiative worth replicating elsewhere.”

The long-term plan is to introduce other Rothschild’s giraffe from elsewhere in Kenya, in order to build up a genetically healthy population of giraffe in the sanctuary that can eventually be released into the greater Rift Valley ecosystem.

“Not only did this groundbreaking project save these giraffe, but it also marks their reintroduction to the mainland for the first time in 70 years,” said David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now. “This rescue is a significant success for both of those reasons.”

True to the holistic community conservancy model, the Ruko giraffe sanctuary will be linked to community livelihoods and development projects.

Opportunities for eco-tourism, post-pandemic, are numerous, and the community have ideas about offering unique walking safaris for visitors. There is a new airstrip close to the Sanctuary to ensure accessibility. Even when the giraffes were on the island, the conservancy welcomed about 500 guests annually to see them from boat tours, which provided a market for local entrepreneurs and youth groups around the island to sell beaded items and other wares. Any tourism earnings received from conservancy entry fees are split, with 40% funding conservancy operations and 60% split equally among the two communities in the region for healthcare and education.

Rothschild’s (Nubian) giraffe are a dwindling subspecies of the Northern giraffe that once roamed the entire western Rift Valley in Kenya and into Uganda. Today, fewer than 3,000 are left in Africa, with only about 800 in Kenya.

The final move occurred on the second anniversary of the founding of Save Giraffes Now, a nonprofit started in Dallas, Texas, in 2019 by Myers. The organization is focused on immediate, on-the-ground action for endangered giraffe in nine African countries.

To learn more about Save Giraffes Now and their partners’ work on this project, visit Save Giraffes Now’s project website and follow the team’s progress on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

About Save Giraffes Now

Save Giraffes Now is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to saving giraffe from extinction by supporting action-oriented projects with immediate impact. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with a base in Nanyuki, Kenya, Save Giraffes Now (SGN) creates awareness about the significantly declining giraffe populations in Africa and supports on-the-ground programs, such as de-snaring/anti-poaching efforts, rewilding, and community-led projects, to ensure a stable future for the iconic giraffe and the people who live alongside them. All donations to Save Giraffes Now go directly to projects in Africa. For more information, visit www.savegiraffesnow.org.

Kenya Wildlife Service

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) conserves and manages Kenya’s wildlife for the Kenyan people and the world. It is a state corporation that was established by an Act of Parliament (Cap 376), now repealed by the Wildlife and Conservation Management Amendment (2013), with the mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations. KWS undertakes conservation and management of wildlife resources across all protected areas systems in collaboration with stakeholders. It is our goal to work with others to conserve, protect and sustainably manage wildlife resources. The community wildlife program of KWS in collaboration with others encourages biodiversity conservation by communities living on land essential to wildlife, such as wildlife corridors and dispersal lands outside parks and reserves. The premise is that “if people benefit from wildlife and other natural resources, then they will take care of these resources.”

About Northern Rangelands Trust

The Northern Rangelands Trust is a community conservancy membership organisation that works for 39 community conservancies (including Ruko) across 42,000 km2 of northern and coastal Kenya. NRT provides funding and training to help indigenous institutions to enhance governance structures, lead peace and security efforts, identify, implement and manage development projects, take the lead in wildlife conservation and rangelands management programmes, build sustainable businesses linked to conservation, and establish relationships with investors, government and others for a sustainable future. NRT receives core programme support from USAID, DANIDA, The Nature Conservancy and many others.

About Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy

Ruko Community Conservancy is a community-based organisation, created to support the management of community-owned land for the benefit of household livelihoods and for the conservation and protection of natural resources, particularly the Rothschild’s (Nubian) giraffe. It is home to the Il Chamus and Pokot communities, who work to build strong governance and peace structures, grow diversified local businesses linked to conservation, implement community-led development programmes and manage natural resources for people and wildlife alike. Ruko is one of 39 community conservancy members of the Northern Rangelands Trust.U.S. nonprofit joined Ruko Community Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service in saving critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe

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