The day of the transfer dawned clear and bright, but tension was in the air. We were all a bit nervous and hopeful that Melman and the other giraffes would make the trip without incident. Fortunately, luck shined upon us. All giraffes were easily located into the transfer truck. The journey from there would be arduous. It would take 30 km to get to the ferry and then an additional 40 km from the ferry to reach the release site. Melman was by far the most curious giraffe of the group. He walked a circuit in the truck trying to see every part of MFNP from an unprecedented angle, towering above the savannah in a slow moving truck. I couldn’t help but notice that Melman annoyed the other giraffes with his eagerness. He just seemed so keen to make the most out of his experience. It was great to see his curiosity but we worried all the while as 24 giraffe legs in one cart can easily get tangled up causing one or the other of them to fall down. This did happen at one point as a giraffe stumbled and fell. The truck immediately stopped to check on the condition of the giraffe. The stillness allowed the animal to recover its position without injury. No one was certain whether Melman was involved in the fall in any way, but we did notice that he was the first to check in with the fallen giraffe. Perhaps he was apologizing. If you have watched Madagascar, you can imagine what an apology of this type would have sounded like.
At the release site, UWA rangers cleared the area and we prepared the truck for unloading. At first, the giraffes stood stock still. A large female was first at the opening of the door. She would decide when the group would move. Melman was tucked away in the back excitedely pushing the others forward. We knew that at least one giraffe was very ready for this new adventure in some foreign land. After a couple of minutes of disbelief that there was nothing blocking their way, the female lurched forward dashing off in a sprint. She was quickly followed by the 5 additional giraffe, including Melman, who all set off in single file, as if they were part of a long distance running event. We anticipate that the new population will steadily grow and increase the range of these endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Their new home would be far away from human activities such as tourists vehicles, oil exploration, and poachers snares.
My fellow lab mate Tutilo and our advisor Dr. Bob Montgomery were involved in Melman’s translocation and all shared these same feelings that this was a very special giraffe. To celebrate the day we all decided to go, along with UWA Rangers Robert and Samson, to visit the majestic Murchison Falls. In this way we were following the advice of the Park Warden of MFNP (Tom Okello) who told us, “You haven’t been to Murchison unless you have been to the top of the falls!” I guess I really have been to the falls as this particular trip was my second, but I still needed to fall Tom Okello's advice and get myself to the top. The first time I was lucky enough to visit the falls with Liza as well as Tom and Kathy Leiden from the Leiden Conservation Foundation. After the release of Melman and the other five giraffes, I saw the falls from a completely different perspective. This time we hiked around to the top of the falls and the views were simply breathtaking. Everyone should seek the Warden’s advice. This is a spectacular and transformative place. As Tom Okello says, one has to visit the top of the falls. Who knows, perhaps Melman will decide that he needs an adventure at some point in future and make his way up here. I certainly wouldn’t put it past him.