'A Silent Extinction': Finding Peace And Saving Giraffes On A Lake In Kenya : Parallels Nearly 40 percent of giraffes were wiped out in one generation. Now, Kenyan conservation efforts are helping to bring them back.
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'A Silent Extinction': Finding Peace And Saving Giraffes On A Lake In Kenya

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'A Silent Extinction': Finding Peace And Saving Giraffes On A Lake In Kenya

'A Silent Extinction': Finding Peace And Saving Giraffes On A Lake In Kenya

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Ninety-eight thousand - that's how many giraffes are left roaming Africa. It reflects a drop of 40 percent in the past three decades. Experts call this a silent extinction. The issue is the latest in our series Take A Number examining problems around the world through the lens of a single number. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports on a conservancy in Kenya bringing giraffes back home.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: From the boat, Rebecca Kochulem points at the hills surrounding the lake. They're lush, green with acacia trees.

REBECCA KOCHULEM: It's good ecology. It's good habitat, except only problem is that most of the species were wiped out from this area because of poaching.

PERALTA: Kochulem and I are headed toward an island in the middle of Lake Baringo in search of giraffes. We ride past gurgling hot springs, past other islands with towering red cliffs that plunge into the water. Many decades ago, this was home to the Rothchild (ph) giraffe, but hunters killed them all.

KOCHULEM: If you asked an elder, maybe those of 60 years plus, they will tell you we used to hunt them.

PERALTA: But not - none of the young people ever remember...

KOCHULEM: Saw them. No.

PERALTA: ...Seeing a giraffe or...

KOCHULEM: It's maybe 60 years plus.

PERALTA: The boat stops. Kochulem guides me onto the island.

Hi, how are you? I'm Eyder.

It's part of the Ruko Conservancy, a small community-run program that brought giraffes back home. Kochulem, a zoologist who manages this program, says everyone sort of assumed that giraffes were OK. But a survey in 2016 found that nearly 40 percent of the population had been wiped out in one generation. The world, says Kochulem, was waiting for a tragedy before taking action.

KOCHULEM: So maybe it was, like, too late somehow. But I think with now the protection that is happening, we're thinking that it might save them.

PERALTA: In 2012, this conservancy literally shipped in eight giraffes. Two of them have died, and the conservancy has lost three calves. One of them was strangled by a python. The others they think died of bad nutrition or pneumonia. We walk down a steep, rocky hill and onto a plain. Between the acacia trees, a giraffe comes into view. It's so tall what happens in the legs takes seconds to echo through its neck and finally its head.

KOCHULEM: She's the one who - she's due in May.

PERALTA: So she's the pregnant one.

KOCHULEM: Yeah.

PERALTA: Oh, wow. So this is...

KOCHULEM: And the other one is in June.

PERALTA: So this is going to be a big test for you.

KOCHULEM: Yeah, for us. That's why we are really planning to ensure that we have them safe during that time and after.

PERALTA: And I guess what you all have learned here is that keeping giraffes is not easy.

KOCHULEM: It's not easy. It's not easy.

PERALTA: The Rothchild subspecies of giraffe almost disappeared. In the 1970s, they were down to 150 in Kenya, mostly because of humans. Rebecca Kochulem takes me from the giraffe island to Ol Kokwe Island. For decades, this part of Kenya has been a battleground for two tribes - the Pokots and the Njemps. This conservancy is actually run by a board made of members from the two tribes. Two elders, Mzee Lebene and Lowombe, welcome us.

LOWOMBE: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Lowombe says the conservancy has helped to forge peace. The communities have to make decisions together. The rangers come from both communities. So it creates empathy and understanding. Back in 2005, the Pokots invaded Njemp territory. A lot of people here were violently displaced to this island. And two things the Ruko Conservancy board has to discuss is a plan to move the giraffes from the safety of the island to the mainland and a plan to return the Njemps to conquered land.

MZEE LEBENE: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Mzee Lebene says they take hope from the giraffes that one day they will all go home and learn to live together. Back on the water, I ask Kochulem if she's surprised at how much work with humans it takes to save giraffes. No, she says, because if humans can't find peace, neither will the animals. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, on Lake Baringo in Kenya.

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