Help for stranded Baringo giraffes of Longcharo isle

Rothschild giraffes feed at Longcharo Island in Lake Baringo. Efforts to save the giraffes from extinction are underway. Inset: A view of Longcharo Island. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

For the seven towering Rothchild giraffes, also known as Baringo or Uganda giraffes, the isolated Longcharo Island in Lake Baringo has been their home for the last 10 years.

They have been marooned on that island from where they have enjoyed its solitude amid awesome views of a vast water mass.

Comfortably perched on the 188-acre island, the giraffes have witnessed the phenomena of the swelling lakes of the Rift Valley, Lake Baringo is one of them.

But despite being enmeshed in the beauty of Longcharo Island, the giraffes have slowly become victims of predator pythons.

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The pythons strangle new-born calves dealing a blow to the giraffes’ procreation attempts. However, according to Lake Baringo Conservation Area senior warden Jackson Komen, efforts to secure the giraffe species within the confines of Longcharo Island, are underway.

Already, the community living around the area has endorsed a giraffe sanctuary which will allow the critically endangered species to breed.

Nine sub-species

“They are one of the nine subspecies of giraffes. They got their name - Baringo Giraffes - because they used to only roam in Baringo,” Mr Komen said.

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As the story goes, the giraffes found themselves on the island following the swelling of Lake Baringo in 2010.

They used to roam around the shores of the lake and when the lake swelled, the giraffes were pushed to higher grounds.

Unknown to them, the mass of water had slowly engulfed the raised hilly spot creating Longcharo island. The island became their home.

By the time Longcharo got separated from the mainland, 10 giraffes were already living on it.

Mr Komen said some of the giraffes died due to diseases and challenges of adapting to hilly terrain.

“Unlike now, it was a challenge for this species to adapt. Currently, we have rangers doing patrols and assisting them when necessary. We have seen an improvement. The youngest one is clocking five months,” Komen said.

According to Rebby Jepchumba, manager Ruko Conservancy, the communities from Rukus area and Komolion in Baringo decided to create space for the conservancy to secure the giraffes.

The conservancy is about 19,000 acres. The biggest challenge, she said has been the pythons.

“Predation is the major challenge and in several instances, the young ones often get strangled by pythons,” Ms Jepchumba said.

She noted that the reason the community decided to endorse the conservancy was in order to save the endangered species trapped within the island by helping it breed.

“The conservancy was endorsed by the community two years ago and Baringo County has also supported it,” Jepchumba said. 

Giraffe sanctuary

“Kenya Wildlife Service is the main player in the conservancy efforts. Plans are underway to relocate the species to a designated giraffe sanctuary within Ruko conservancy.”

Currently, the giraffes are supplied with daily mineral supplements to boost their health. This is because food often gets scarce during the dry season.

According to Jepchumba, four of the giraffes are currently pregnant and plans to relocate them have already been mooted.

Translocation, she says, is expected to be natural and might not include sedation.

“Crossing to the main land will require skills, through sponsors, we have managed to build a giraffe barge which will be used to transport them to Ruko conservancy,” Jepchumba said.

“The giraffes are presently being acquainted to the barge.”

Kenya Wildlife Service Central Rift Assistant Director Aggrey Maumo said ecological and security issues have been looked into, and Environmental Impact Assessment has been done. Now, only the translocation remains.

“This is part of efforts being put in place to ensure safety and boost breeding of the endangered Baringo giraffes. We are working closely with the Northern Rangelands Trust, the local community and the County government,” Mr Maumo said.

Relocation plans

Relocation, he noted, might take place between December and January this year.

“The bigger picture lays in efforts to try and boost the breeding of these species. Other species can be found in Lake Nakuru and Soysambu conservancy,” Maumo said.

He added that the conservancy needs to be fenced  to secure the animals.

According to the International Union of Conservation and Nature, Rothschild giraffes exist comfortably in hot woodlands, savanna, and shrub lands of Kenya and Uganda.

Estimates shows that fewer than 670 Rothschild giraffes remain. Kenya hosts 40 per cent of this population while Uganda hosts the remaining 60 per cent.

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