Giraffe in my Face!
You come to Nairobi to use this bustling, fun, traffic-choked, aggressive city as a launching-off point for other things. Climbing Mt Kenya. Buying trinkets from Maasai. Safaris, safaris and more safaris. Diving near Mombasa.
Nearer to ‘home’ – in fact, even on a lousy traffic day, barely an hour from Down Town, there are great attractions however. The Nairobi National Park. The Elephant Orphanage. And – for those not afraid of heights – the Giraffe Centre, which specialises in rearing and showing the endangered Rothschild Giraffe.
Here’s the Wikipedia blurb on the Giraffe Centre: “The Giraffe Centre is located at Langata, approximately 5 kilometres from the centre of Nairobi, Kenya. It was established in order to protect the endangered Rothschild giraffe, giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi, that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa.
The Giraffe Centre was started by Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, when he and his wife Betty captured a baby giraffe to start a programme of breeding giraffe in captivity at their home in Langata – home of the present centre. Since then the programme has had huge success, resulting in the introduction of several breeding pairs of Rothschild Giraffe into Kenyan national parks.
In 1979, Leslie-Melville added an education centre to his (then still private) giraffe sanctuary. By 1983 he had raised enough money to establish the Giraffe Visitor’s Centre as a tourist destination in Nairobi. The main attraction for visitors is feeding giraffes from a raised observation platform. The centre is also home to several warthogs which freely roam the area along with the giraffes.”
Feed them you do; they come sailing along, on impossibly long knobbly-kneed legs, from way over along the tree-line of the park, steaming towards the viewing platform.
When they’ve had enough nibbling – or need some de-stress time from the endless photo-snapping – they sail away, with the (very informative) attendants calling them back by name, rattling food pellets in the wooden trays, and clanking the metal bucket handles on the bucket rims. Sometimes it works; and sometimes the giraffe just turns that long, long neck back, bats a long, long set of eyelashes at the humans, and snorts.
These goofy-looking giraffes (up close, I mean – c’mon, look at this face in the photo I took below!) are deceptively able to protect themselves against predators. We were advised that one kick from an adult giraffe can kill a man. We were in no danger of that; it was more the 45cm blue tongue swooshing around picking up food pellets from hands (or lips – tourists have this fascination with “french kissing a giraffe” which amounts basically to a face-swipe of G-saliva…) that spelled the danger. I managed to resist the temptation to form that deep a relationship with any of them, despite their juicy slurps and big, liquid brown eyes :)
Giraffe factoids: in captivity these guys will live up towards 30 years, while in the wild the average age is barely double digits. The current group seemed to average around 17-18 years of age, with a few babies (and so cute: just a tiny wee 2 metres at birth, mere tiddlers!) in amongst the group. They are social yet fairly solitary it seemed to me: most adults hung out by themselves or in pairs along the tree line, often just standing still for long periods of time. Factoid: they require less than 30 minutes sleep a day. Factoid: a mummy giraffe carries her bub for about 15 months, but can delay birth by up to 3 months if conditions are not good. That, girls, is a long time!
Off in the medium distance, the Giraffe Manor (built 1932, now a boutique hotel) stands elegantly with a large lawn out front, across which giraffes amble casually. Guests apparently feed the giraffes from their second storey bedroom windows – a new take on room service.
The current price of admission is Ksh700 (around US$9.70), and a cab ride from down-town is Ksh 800-1000. The drivers are then willing to wait a couple of hours, for no charge, to get the return fare back to lovely Nairobi.