GIRAFFE RESCUE: A TALL ORDER

What happens when the world’s tallest mammals are living amongst farmers in community land? It becomes a race against time to save them before the perilous effects of human-wildlife conflict play out.

Giraffes are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In Kenya’s Great Rift Valley on the shores Lake Naivasha, the clashes of human-wildlife conflict are already having a catastrophic effect for one group of Masai giraffes. Without help, this tower of twigas would not survive, so The Safari Collection and Giraffe Manor decided to act. Along with our generous guests and agents, and in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Save Giraffes Now (SGN), we undertook the mammoth operation of relocating 21 giraffes to safety. Twelve were translocated to Loldia Farm, whilst the other nine were opportunistically walked onto nearby protected areas.

KWS capture team running alongside a darted giraffe

It has been an exhausting, emotional and epic week on all fronts. Moving 18 foot tall, 1.5 tonne animals is no easy task; it’s technical, dangerous and takes weeks of careful planning. Below, we share the story of this incredible translocation.

Why did these giraffes need to be moved?
We travelled deep into community land to track this group of giraffes. Marooned on an open hillside surrounded by farmland, they were surviving on a shrinking patch of acacia and euphorbia trees. A herd of goats grazed alongside them and village life was visible in every direction. Finding water is challenging here as a maze of farms block access to the lake.

‘The sad reality is that not all human-wildlife conflict is because the people don’t like the wildlife; coexistence is simply too complicated in many circumstances.’
~ Aggrey Chemwa, Save Giraffes Now Research Associate

Although most community members enjoy seeing these graceful giants every day, their food supply is running out and they are being targeted by poachers. In the last three months alone, three giraffes have been brutally killed. One of the older females we rescued had a deep spear wound in her side and one male had a snare embedded in his leg.

Giraffe with the KWS vet team on farmland

What does it mean to The Safari Collection to be involved?
Our very existence as a company is underpinned by a desire to protect Africa’s wildlife for our children’s children and beyond. Being on the frontline of saving a threatened species was a special experience. It gave us the chance to show our team members what goes on behind the scenes at Giraffe Manor and what the conservation work of our Footprint foundation looks like in action. We took chefs, waiters, spa therapists, housekeepers and managers from Giraffe Manor and The Retreat to witness the action. We’re extremely grateful to the KWS and SGN for helping make this rescue a reality.

‘It’s always enlightening for people to see part of the bigger picture and is ultimately what we want to communicate to the guests that stay in our camps and lodges.’
~ Mikey Carr-Hartley, founder and owner of The Safari Collection

The General Manager of Giraffe Manor with some of his team members

Blindfolds are used to keep the giraffes calm throughout the translocation

What does it take to move 21 giraffes to safety?
One tractor, one specially designed giraffe trolley, one customised giraffe truck, 25 experienced wildlife handlers from KWS including four veterinarians and weeks of careful planning. Not to mention importing specialised drugs, talking to community members, training a support team and preparing a fleet of vehicles – the hard work that goes into such an operation is immense. In the months leading up to the translocation, a KWS research scientist monitored the giraffes’ behaviour and movements, ensuring there really was a need for relocation.

It takes incredible teamwork to move 21 giraffes to safety

How were the giraffes captured?
Wild giraffes are one of the most challenging species to safely immobilise and translocate.

A giraffe’s kick has the power to decapitate a lion and can strike in any direction without warning, making their capture a dangerous and highly skilled exercise.

Setting out at dawn to avoid the heat of the day, the KWS capture team, made up of four vets and a ground team, first track the giraffes. Correctly estimating the size and weight is vital to give the correct dose of sedative. One of the vets darts the giraffe with a powerful drug which takes between five and ten minutes to work. Once the giraffe is down, the vet team moves in at lightning speed. Administering a reversal drug within seconds is crucial to avoid risk of suffocation or choking due to a giraffe’s unique anatomy. At this point, a blindfold is fitted to keep the animal calm.

Working quickly to get the giraffe back on its feet

Within minutes, the giraffe is awake again and it’s all hands on deck. Its head is carefully supported whilst several people hold its neck down – a surprisingly easy way to restrain such a large animal. Meanwhile, a full health check is carried out which includes stool and blood samples and treating any wounds. Another team work swiftly to arrange ropes around its body and legs which will be used to guide it up, while a scientist records GPS coordinates of the capture along with age, gender and other details.

‘The teamwork, commitment and expertise of the KWS team was phenomenal to watch. It’s dangerous and physically exhausting work. The way they coordinated the whole operation was impressive.’
~ Gary Hopcraft, Loldia Farm

How were the giraffes transported?
Within a few minutes of being darted, woken up and treated by the veterinary team, the giraffes are guided back onto their feet and into a custom-made giraffe trolley. Watching the KWS team at work as they juggle a network of ropes makes this look like a smoothly choreographed operation. Whilst the team have done this thousands of times before, manoeuvring a fully grown wild giraffe (which is wide awake) is never simple. Each giraffe has a mind of its own and keeps everyone on their toes. The Safari Collection director, Mikey Carr-Harltey, and Gary Hopcraft from Loldia Farm were both on hand to assist and even the team visiting from Giraffe Manor got stuck in at times.

Loading each giraffe into the trolley takes a lot of strength

The Kenya Wildlife Service have translocated thousands of giraffes before all over Kenya and beyond and are extremely experienced.

Where were the giraffes moved to?
Luckily for these giraffes they did not have far to travel. Just 10 km around the lakeside, Loldia Farm has provided a protected home for them, with a small population of Masai giraffes already living there and plenty of acacia trees to munch on. In terms of a wild giraffes’ movements, this is no distance at all. Their home ranges can reach up to 1,500 km² and if it wasn’t for human settlement, these giraffes could naturally roam the entire periphery of the lake.

Was the journey distressing for the giraffes?
The giraffes glided serenely along in the truck, their canvas headcovers keeping them calm and protecting their eyes from dust. With such precious cargo, the journey was naturally tense for onlookers. Giant fig trees lined part of the route, so navigating their sweeping branches required guidance from the support cars. The journey was short and within forty minutes of setting off, the giraffes were galloping off into the open.

Making the short journey around the lake

How did the giraffes react when they arrived at their new home?
It was a joyous moment when the first giraffe  released, a large male, walked calmly down the ramp and peacefully away. He looked keenly from left to right as he went, surveying his new home, before pausing to look back. He then strode gracefully off into the bush, not waiting for his friend still in the truck! Within a few minutes, we saw him browse a thorn tree. Two days later, he came to greet one of the females we released and they walked off together. Watching each giraffe stroll off into the bush, knowing they are now in a safer environment, was an emotive experience.

Stepping out into their new protected home at Loldia Farm

‘The moment the giraffes step out of the truck and feel the freedom of their new protected home, it makes everything worth it.’
~ Oli Dreike, Footprint Director at The Safari Collection

Why were some giraffes translocated by truck whilst others walked?
The giraffes stranded in the heart of the community needed to be darted and moved by truck to get them to safety. However, some of the giraffes on the periphery of the farmland began moving themselves towards the fences of two neighbouring properties, both with healthy populations of Masai giraffes living inside. Four congregated outside Mundui Wildlife Conservancy and the next day, five headed towards Wileli Wildlife Conservancy. This presented opportunities to quickly move these threatened giraffes to safety without having to sedate and capture them.

Will the giraffes miss their old home?
The giraffes were not living in such close proximity to farmland, humans and livestock by choice. With its ready access to water, plentiful acacia trees and protection against poachers, the giraffes will prefer the peace of their new home. Before being moved, a multitude of threats endangered their existence: rapid habitat loss due to agriculture, lack of access to water due to fencing and targeting for bush meat.

Moving giraffes requires a highly experience vet team

Without swift action, all the giraffes would likely disappear within a year ~ Vasco Nyaga, KWS Assistant Research Scientist

How will you monitor the giraffes in their new home?
The giraffes have already been spotted browsing on thorn trees in small groups. Their movements can be easily followed by the guides and rangers working on Loldia Farm. Tracking will also be done through GiraffeSpotter, an online database which uses photography to catalogue wild giraffe populations. Individual giraffes can be identified by their unique markings, just like our fingerprints.

Find out how you can help save this threatened species by visiting our Footprint foundation.

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