A GiRaft

Photo credit: Bernard DUPONT (2008)

Rothschild’s giraffes are an endangered species with fewer than 3,000 animals left. In Kenya, there was a small population on a reserve on a peninsula of Lake Baringo, a key location because the animals were easily protected from poachers. But intense rain and flooding in 2020 began to turn the giraffe’s peninsula into a shrinking island. There wasn’t enough food and several giraffes died, despite efforts to bring food to them. The giraffes needed to be relocated. But relocating a giraffe isn’t easy.

First of all, the largest of the giraffes is over 18 feet tall. They can weigh as much as a small car. And they can’t be fully sedated. Because of the physiology of a giraffe, when sedated they can choke on their saliva; in addition, if horizontal, they can suffer a sudden loss of blood flow to the brain and they are prone to both neck and leg injuries. Not only that, the lake they needed to cross is full of crocodiles. So how do you did they move them to the mainland?

A specially designed GiRaft! The raft needed to be well-balanced to take into account the giraffes’ weight and high center of gravity. The rescue team designed a barge that sat on 60 empty metal oil drums. The sides were also reinforced to keep the giraffes from getting off the raft, which was pulled by a motorboat. Then there’s the matter of getting the giraffes on the raft in the first place. The plan involved initial tranquilization and then a tranquilizer-reversal drug. This allowed the animals to be fitted with harnesses, guide ropes, and blindfolds. Much to the relief of rangers, the giraffes moved calmly and tolerated the raft ride well.

The giraffes had to be moved one at a time. But they are all safe now, in a new 4,400 acre reserve, complete with fencing to protect them from both predators and poachers. Rangers and the community have high hopes that this rescue mission was the first step to recovering the population of Rothchild’s giraffes in their historical habitat of the Western Rift Valley.


In my experience, people either love or hate raccoons. Those in the latter group claim that raccoons are disgusting, overgrown rodents. Truth is, they are not rodents at all, but are mammals that belong to the order carnivora – meat eaters. They do eat meat, and just about anything else. Still, people think of them as vermin because they tend to invade homes, gardens, and farms. And bird feeders. Thus this post. I have a bird feeder that’s been out for years without becoming a raccoon buffet. But I’ve been found out. I caught one rascal in the act. So now, I must bring the feeder in every night and remember to put it out every morning.

Photo credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson

One of the keys to raccoons’ success is their intelligence and adaptability. They live in a wide variety of climates and rural, urban, and suburban habitats around the world. They are not picky about where to create a den – trees, caves, barns, attics, etc. Similarly, they don’t seem to be too picky about what they eat. Raccoons that lives in the woods will eat what you might expect – birds, nuts, insects, etc. Some even swim, catching and eating fish, frogs, and crayfish. Those who live close to humans, though, take advantage of garbage cans and pet food (or bird feeders!). Interestingly, studies show that urban raccoons may actually be more intelligent than their relatives in the woods. The reason for this is that, in order to survive, they must overcome human-made obstacles to get food. In other words, the urban environment presents them with puzzles they have to solve to be rewarded with food. Raccoons have learned to unzip tents, open Tupperware, turn doorknobs, unhook latches and hooks, lift levers, and more. They also have learned to avoid human threats, including roads, especially intersections (really, scientists have done studies on all this!).

Raccoons are one of the few species thriving in the face of human activity. This is also the reason why there are more human-raccoon encounters. There are endless stories about how humans have gone head to head with raccoons, trying to keep them away from gardens or out of sheds. In order to keep my bird seed for the birds, the question for me becomes, can I outwit a raccoon? Game on.

Canadian Lynx

There is a little-known conservation success story in Colorado that deserves celebration – it is about the return of the Canadian lynx to Colorado’s mountains. While it is called a Canadian lynx, the feline is native to the Rocky Mountains, ranging from Canada south into Colorado. Like so many other animals, though, the lynx population in the western US declined steadily beginning in the 1800s as a result of trapping, poisoning, and habitat loss. In the 1900s, sightings of the elusive animal grew increasingly rare. In 1973, the last known lynx in Colorado was illegally trapped and killed near Vail.

But in the early ‘90s, the folks at the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW, now called Colorado Parks and Wildlife – CPW) began to consider reintroducing the lynx to the state. They understood that humans were responsible for their extirpation (local extinction) and realized that we should also be responsible for bringing them back. It was a long process that included habitat studies, prey studies, drafting conservation strategies, locating Canadian and Alaskan trappers, arranging transportation, and more. In addition, the DOW had to deal with public relations. A lot of folks weren’t happy with the reintroduction. They had meetings with ranchers, the ski industry, and animal rights activists. But at last, in early 1999, the first five lynx arrived at the Frisco Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Del Norte and were prepared for release near Creede on February 3, 1999. All were fitted with trackers.

The first several years of the program were difficult, with high lynx mortality. But those dedicated to reintroduction studied and learned and made new plans. More lynx were brought to the state. And finally, in 2003, the first lynx kittens were born in Colorado in decades. There were ups and downs with the program, but by 2006 the program was declared a success. The lynx had established themselves in their new home and reproduction exceeded mortality. For a lucky few, there are lynx sightings in the mountains now and the lynx continue to thrive in their natural range.

It’s Bat Season!

It’s bat season and I’m not talking about baseball – I’m talking about the flying mammal. Every spring, approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats return to the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas (and others return to different places across North America). That’s a lot of bats! The colony in Austin first arrived after the bridge was renovated in the early 1980s. And while the engineers in Austin didn’t intend to build a bat hotel, that’s exactly what they did. The new box-beam system created spaces that were exactly the right size for bats to roost in. Not only that, but the bridge stays warm on cool nights and keeps the bats safe from predators.

Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

But when the bats first moved in many people wanted the bats exterminated. Newspapers ran scary stories about the bats with headlines such as, “Bat Colony Sinks Teeth into City” and “Rabid Flying Rodents Infest the City!” Health department officials were not happy about the bats either at first. In fact, they actively tried to prove that having the bats in the city was unhealthy.

Their study, however, demonstrated exactly the opposite. The water quality under and downstream from the bridge proved to be the same as above the bridge. In other words, bat guano was not polluting the water. Other tests showed that the bridge concrete was wearing as would be expected in the normal life of the bridge – the bats were not harming it. And the bats themselves were healthy.

Thanks to the help of one man, Dr. Merlin Tuttle, who helped educate the public, people soon learned that bats are a natural, integral part of the ecosystem. During the summer in Texas, the colony will eat five to ten tons of insects per night. In addition, as insect predators, they help farmers by eating pest insects. One Mexican free-tailed bat from Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge can eat enough moths in one night to prevent 20,000 or more eggs from being laid and keep farming from having to spray insecticides to protect crops.

The truth is, if you don’t try to touch or handle bats, the odds of being bitten or getting sick is close to zero. Today, the Congress Avenue Bridge bats are an Austin icon. The bats arrive every March and stay through October. During that time tourists arrive too, just to see the bats.