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Animal kingdom makes maiden journey across lake

By Caroline Chebet | September 25th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

A giraffe in the conservancy. [File]

From a distance, Longcharo is alone, tiny island hemmed in by the swelling Lake Baringo.

Closer inspection reveals a secret magical animal kingdom, a real-life Zootopia.

This wilderness that is devoid of human settlements is now under threat from the waters that sustain life in it.

Before Lake Baringo started rising slowly but inexorably in 2013, Longcharo formed part of the community-owned Ruko Conservancy.

The 150-acre wildlands were home to eight Rothschild’s giraffes, warthogs, ostriches, impalas, snakes, birds and insects. Hippos and crocodiles also found abode on the island.

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But as the lake swelled from 176 square kilometres to the now expansive 276 square kilometres, it cut off the island from the mainland before dividing it, again, into two.

With once-large swathes of grazing and hunting land now underwater, the animals have been left to scramble for the little food that is available.

The rising waters have trapped warthogs, impalas and ostriches on little more than one-and-a-half acres of land. One of the giraffes was also separated from the herd on what is the lower side of the island while the rest live on the raised section.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Central Rift assistant director Dickson Ritan said the resulting crowding forced them to plan and execute a translocation.

“The competition for food is high and water levels are still rising, just like in the other lakes in the Rift region,” Ritan said.

The race to rescue the trapped animals was akin to raiding an ark. It involved laying of traps and taking blood samples before the wildlife was bundled onto barges and moved to safety.

“The translocation plans were in place but they were halted by Covid-19. The rising water levels and lack of grass on the remaining area made it an emergency. We first started with smaller animals. Unlike the grazers, giraffes are browsers and still have forage,” Ritan said.

Before the exercise started, the animals were fed from a barge to get them accustomed to the long flat-bottomed boat.

Interestingly, tranquilisers were not used in the three-day exercise that targeted warthogs, ostriches and impalas. This made for an interesting, and risky, game of chase, hide and seek, and trap.

Day one of the exercise got off to a smooth start. An ostrich was lured with leafy twigs to the barge on which it made the two-hour journey across the swollen lake to the safety of the vast Ruko Conservancy.

The energy levels were higher on the second day as the rangers targeted warthogs and impalas.

To trap the animals, sections of the island were partitioned with long heavy nets before rangers spread out in a line and, moving slowly in formation, made noises.

The spooked wildlife were flushed from their hiding spots and fled headlong into the nets and got entangled.

The warthogs were the feistiest of the bunch, kicking and trying to gore their captors. But the rangers held them down, tied their limbs and bundled them into sacks.

Blood samples were quickly taken before they were put on a speed boat for the trip to Ruko. By Tuesday, nine animals — one ostrich, one impala and seven warthogs — had been relocated.

KWS senior scientist Joseph Edebe said they plan to move the giraffes next month. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, their status is listed as Near Threatened.

“This is one of the sanctuaries that was identified for re-introduction of the species after they became locally extinct,” Edebe said.

Lake Baringo warden Jackson Komen said the animals’ new sanctuary in the conservancy is currently being fenced off to restrict them from moving too far, which might result in conflict.

“These animals have been roaming on the island and we have had to put up the fence within the conservancy to ensure they remain safe,” Komen said, adding that except for pythons that can swim, they plan to move all the wildlife.


Longcharo Lake Baringo Zootopia
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