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15-Month Mission Saves Giraffes on Sinking Island

9 endangered Rothschild giraffes transported on custom-made barge to mainland Kenya
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2021 9:56 AM CDT

(Newser) – For more than a year, multiple groups have worked together to rescue nine endangered giraffes from a sinking island in a Kenyan lake. On Monday, the final two animals made the milelong journey from their flooded habitat to their new home on the mainland, thanks to the rescuers' patience and persistence—and a custom-made barge dubbed the "GiRaft." Gizmodo reports that the tiny population of Rothschild's giraffes—of which there are only 800 in Kenya and about 2,100 overall in Africa—had become threatened when rising waters started saturating Longicharo Island in Lake Baringo, putting the giraffes' food supply at risk. At first rangers brought sustenance for the giraffes over to the island. But once they realized that wouldn't work as a permanent solution, local conservation agencies, in tandem with the Dallas-based Save Giraffes Now, toiled for 15 months to transport the eight females and one male to a 4,400-acre sanctuary on the mainland.

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The complex mission involved a boat-pulled barge built on 60 empty drums, with reinforced sides to keep the giraffes safely enclosed. Live Science and Smithsonian Magazine report that rescuers first had to acclimate the giraffes to the GiRaft by placing treats like mangos and acacia leaves on board. When it came time to do a transport, the giraffe was given a tranquilizer so that it could be blindfolded and have guide ropes attached to it, then quickly revived and guided onto the boat. Asiwa was the first giraffe brought to the mainland in December; over the next few months, the rest came over, including Ngarikoni and her baby Noelle on Monday. Video online shows one giraffe's "excited gallop" as he was let off the barge. "We felt a great sense of urgency to complete this rescue," David O'Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, says in a statement, per Gizmodo. "With [giraffes] undergoing a silent extinction, every one we can protect matters." (Read more giraffes stories.)

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