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.