NAIROBI, April 13 – An international rescue has finally been completed 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 on April 12 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 the ambitious rescue.

The 15-month project to rescue the giraffes 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. The 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.”

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.

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.