Earth observation tech saved critically endangered giraffes

The Longcharo Island has been Rothschild's giraffe home for over a decade

In Summary

•Earth Observation technologies were used to monitor the rising lakes before a decision was arrived at to move the giraffes

•Today, fewer than 3,000 Rothschild’s giraffes are left in Africa, with about 800 in Kenya.

The giraffe being moved.
The giraffe being moved.

In September 2021, the water in Lake Baringo increased by 85.1 per cent, threatening not only human life but also wildlife.

As the government urged residents to move to higher grounds, the critically endangered Rothschild's giraffe within the 188-acre Longcharo Island were stranded.

The Longcharo Island had been their home for the last 10 years.

The giraffes were rescued and moved to safer grounds, thanks to earth observation technologies that were showcased on August 8-10 at the Kasarani-based Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development.

Digital Earth Africa capacity development lead Dr Kenneth Mubea said they worked with the Northern Rangeland Trust to document the rehoming of giraffes.

“The giraffes were located at Longcharo Island. This meant that we had to work with rangers, the science community at NRT to inform them of the rising levels of Lake Baringo around September 2021 and September 2020,” Mubea said.

The giraffes were moved to the mainland of the conservancy, as rising lake levels threatened their future.

The move was done through a partnership with the Northern Rangelands Trust and the US non-profit Save Giraffes Now.

The giraffes were originally moved to Ruko in 2011, in a bid to reintroduce Rothschild’s giraffe, also known as the Baringo giraffe, back to their endemic range.

Today, fewer than 3,000 Rothschild’s giraffes are left in Africa, with about 800 in Kenya.

The approval to move the giraffes to a purpose-built sanctuary on the mainland was granted by Kenya Wildlife Service after lake levels started to rise by an estimated six inches a day. This turned the giraffe’s original home into an ever-shrinking island, with food sources becoming scarce.

The giraffes were moved by a rectangular barge, custom-built by the Ruko community out of steel and designed to float on top of a series of empty drums for buoyancy.

It had tall reinforced sides to keep the giraffes from jumping out while they were being tugged by boats.

The earth observation technologies that saved the giraffes were showcased during the seventh international conference on earth observation technologies where more than 1,000 delegates attended.

The theme of the conference was ‘Next level: space to community’.

Land management, policy and development, innovations and data, agriculture and food security and biodiversity conservation and blue economy was discussed during the three-day conference.

Mubea said earth observation technologies enabled them to monitor levels of the lake from space.

They were also able to monitor save haven where giraffes could co-exist with communities.

Mubea said Digital Earth Africa empowers countries to access satellite data, enabling climate adaptation and mitigation, greater food security and more sustainable development.

He said such technologies are also crucial in helping communities to know where the natural resources are, how the rainfall temperatures affect them.

“The products from Digital Earth Africa are more informed with the local knowledge citizen generated data,” Mubea said.

To bring services closer to the people, Digital Earth Africa opened Africa Satellite office in Kenya that will be based on Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development.

Mubea said Digital Earth Africa also fits within the agenda of addressing climate action in Africa and specifically in Kenya.

Digital Earth Africa also support other sectors like land degradation. "We can actually see from the platform, we can also see how cities like Nairobi have grown, we can monitor urbanisation from space at 10 metres which is very impactful, you can even access it on your mobile phone," he said.

Mubea said they are also looking at other sectors like mining regulations, water resource mapping and how lakes have changed over time.

"We are working with the Department of Resource Surveys which reports to the office of the president by giving them actionable information for decision making and investments in technology so we can make Kenya the first country in Africa to benefit from this technology.” 

Mubea said they are planning to work more with universities such as Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi so the students can access the platform and improve on learning curriculum and empower them to be more competitive.

“We have data for over 35 years for the whole continent,” he said.

Mubea said the data can show how agricultural farms are changing.

“We have developed information to support national agricultural centres like the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation to report on crop productivity.”

Mubea said the launch of the office in Kenya means that the programme is moving closer to the stakeholders in Africa.

“Kenya is very significant as economic giant in the East Africa community,” he said.

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