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Baringo’s historic Giraffe Island

Baringo as a travel destination is mainly known for its lake, teeming with birdlife as well as other wildlife such as crocodiles and hippos. It is also from this lake that the county derives its name.

‘Baringo’ comes from the term mparingo, meaning lake in the Ilchamus tribe. My recent trip to this area opened my eyes to the amazing wonders of this county. It has well maintained roads and is accessible from Nairobi via Nakuru, where one can take another shuttle to Marigat, one of the major towns in Baringo county.

Along the road, you’ll meet women and men selling honey in cans. Beekeeping is a major economic activity here. Tourism too is one of the major income generating activities, which draws both local and international tourists coming to see the magnificent attractions in the county.

One of them that I discovered is the Giraffe Island on Ruko Conservancy. The island can be accessed via a speedboat across the lake from Kampi ya Samaki town. I toured the places courtesy of Island Camp, which hosted me during my stay there.

We arrived at the conservancy with my guide Peter Leweri, and Mike Parkei, the game ranger, welcomed us. As we walked along a rocky path, we saw one giraffe feeding on an acacia tree. “His name is Barnoti, meaning kijana (a young boy),” Mike says. “He was the smallest of all when he was brought here,” he continues.

History indicates that the Maa-speaking community known as Njemps or Ilchamus and Pokot have always fought, mainly over grazing rights and access to water for their livestock.

This happens mostly during drought, when there is a dip in the resources. The Njemps used to hide in this island from the Pokot during war, and began fishing, something that’s apparently a taboo among the Maasai, who traditionally did not eat fish.

Where the ilchamus used to hide from the Pokot during war.

The elders from both sides met and a truce was called in 2006.

The conservancy was created to end warring, with the rangers coming from both sides of the divide to take care of the giraffes that were brought into the island in 2007.

We saw a warthog run along with her young one. I tried to snap a memento but it disappeared under a shrub. The breeze from the bronze lake countered the blazing Baringo sun, making the walk enjoyable.

The conservancy has plenty of animals to view, for instance zebras, impalas, baboons, waterbucks, buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles and other smaller animals, as well as various exotic birds.

The giraffes here are fed with pellets and are sprayed during their feeding time to prevent ticks. However, too much of the pellets can kill them, so the rangers have to ensure that it’s taken in the right proportions.

The giraffes are sensitive, hence they are washed each week and given medicine to prevent nagana, transmitted by tsetse fly. Mike tells me that they sometimes bring vets to take care of them and also check their behaviour from time to time, as the loss of one giraffe can be costly.

Numerous species of herbivores existed in Ruko Conservancy a few years back, but due to massive poaching, a large percentage of wildlife has suffered enormous decline.

The Rothschild’s giraffe that is found in this conservancy is the most endangered sub species of giraffe in the world, and it was affected the most in the conservancy.

Mike explains that its skin and meat was and still is looked for by poachers. Its tail too is hunted, as it is used to make flywhisks. The lake is the giraffe’s security, as it is difficult for poachers to access the island without being noticed.

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