Two giraffe run free at the moment of release on Wild Tomorrow Fund's Ukuwela Conservancy

Two giraffe run free at the moment of release on Wild Tomorrow Fund's Ukuwela Conservancy

It’s been less than a year since Wild Tomorrow Fund was able to save a very special parcel of land in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa, creating a new conservancy called Ukuwela. This month saw the first giraffe released and returned to the land. It was an incredibly exciting moment, with six giraffe now calling Ukuwela home.

An important part of the hard work of creating a conservancy is land rehabilitation. Work began immediately this summer with volunteers working to remove tons of plastic pollution dumped illegally by pineapple farmers of the past, taking down internal fencing to open up safe habitat, and working with local contractors to remove alien plant species.

An even more exciting step in the process of creating a conservancy from restored farm land is the release of wildlife. There are many species who naturally roamed this habitat but have not stepped foot (or hoof or paw) on it for years or decades.

Including giraffe.

Several smaller species have already been introduced to Ukuwela since Wild Tomorrow Fund purchased the land, including six rescued and rehabilitated black jackals, a family of mongoose and a flock of egyptian geese amongst other smaller residents. This month, a much taller ungulate returned to the land - the giraffe.

Wild Tomorrow Fund’s senior wildlife ecologist, Clinton Wright, received the important phone call at six am the morning before he flew to make his long journey to New York. The truck was on its way – and would arrive at 8pm for delivery. Wild Volunteers at next door Albizia Camp managed by local conservationist Anton Roberts were given the news, readying themselves for an exciting evening ahead.

And by sunset, they noisily arrived.

The moment of release of six wild giraffe on Wild Tomorrow Fund's Ukuwela Conservancy in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa, November 2017

A huge double axle cab truck with two trailers hitched up into a long train rolled in noisily. It’s precious cargo contained six giraffe in total. Three female giraffe were in the first trailer, and two larger males in the second. The crowd of spectators waited nervously.

Clinton who lives at the Conservancy with his family, described the scene. “As the first doors opened, four long legged beauties darted from the truck. Giraffe had returned to Ukuwela – with their long necks and odd appearance for those who have not grown up in the bush in Africa. They belong here – should always be here – yet have silently and slowly been driven closer to extinction.”

The truck gates opened noisily. The three females jumped out first, running like race horses out of their gate. Next, it was time for the males to join them. They jumped out at a gallop, a heart-stopping scene to be fortunate to witness. “By the time the second door opened and the two larger males scampered out, all those who were blessed enough to be here to witness it, erupted in cheers.”, recalled Clinton.

After their initial hasty jump out of the truck to safety and their new homes, the giraffe abruptly stopped and looked around, taking in their new home. “Anyone who has witnessed the movements of giraffe will understand”, said Clinton. “ It is as if they have three speeds – run, walk and stop. Nothing in between. They can shift between these movements without any change in speed”. The giraffe looked around at their new habitat - acres and acres of reclaimed and rehabilitated land. All theirs to roam, to eat the leaves of its trees and shrubs, and to breed.

A week later, Clinton was 8,000 miles away from Ukuwela and her new giraffe, at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Annual benefit in New York City. An exciting part of the evening was the live auction, where the highest bidder won the chance to name the giraffe. Ukuwela’s giraffe now have names, a rag taggle mix of names assembled in New York City.

Katherine, Muki, Zina, Burl, JJ and as yet one remaining nameless giraffe...are now home.

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