I wasn’t sure what a giraffe’s tongue was going to feel like. And before I visited the Giraffe Centre in Langata, Nairobi, I guess it wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind. But in case you’re wondering, I’d go for rough sand paper dipped in sticky honey (although, FYI, it doesn’t smell anywhere near as sweet).
Despite having saliva all over your hands (don’t worry, there’s a sink to wash your hands) and the smell of giraffe’s breath wafting in front of you, meeting the Rothschild’s giraffes at the Giraffe Centre is simply magical. There are no more than 700 of these endangered creatures in this sprawling sanctuary. And coming up close to this beautiful sub-species; with their spindly legs, blonde-hair and gorgeous long lashes; is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The origins of this sanctuary started in 1979 when Jock Leslie-Melville (the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish earl) and his wife Betty began raising a baby giraffe in their Langata home. Back then, the numbers of Rothschild’s giraffes had plummeted to a mere 120 creatures and they was close to extinction.
But following years of conservation work through the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), the sanctuary is now home to less than 700 animals. They have also released Rothschild’s giraffes into Lake Nakuru National Park, Mwea National Reserve, Ruma National Park and Nasalot National Reserve. But how do you tell the difference to other giraffes, you might ask? While other subspecies such as the Masai and reticulated giraffes have patterning below the knee, the Rothschild’s giraffes don’t. They have distinctive white ‘socks’ that stand them apart.
There are two ways to see the Rothschild’s giraffes in this sanctuary. You can stay at Giraffe Manor – an exclusive hotel where these creatures have been visiting for years. Or if you’re looking for a slightly more affordable option, for $10, you can visit the Giraffe Centre a few hundred yards down the road.
The animals come and go from the sanctuary to the giraffe centre throughout the day until 5.30pm. So if you’re coming late in the day, I wouldn’t arrive much later than 4pm to get the most out of your experience.
From an elevated platform, you’re given a handful of pellets and one by one, you drop these nuggets onto their long sticky tongues, until they begin to trust you so you can touch them. Going in for a selfie is generally a no, no, (some of these characters have a tendency to headbutt). But if you’re up for a sloppy kiss (or should I say face-lick), yes, you may well be able to say ‘I’ve kissed a giraffe!’
I got some bonding in with Daisy, who managed to give BC’s finger a pretty hard bite (watch your fingers!) We also met feisty Kelly and caught a glimpse of the youngest baby giraffe Marlon – in the distance -who the adults take it in turn to protect.
Watching them stride through the long grass under the warm afternoon sun was incredible. I could hardly bring myself to leave. But after a quick look around the gift shop, we headed down the road to Giraffe Manor – to get even closer to these beautiful things!
You will find The Giraffe Centre on Koitobos Road and it costs 1000 Kenyan shillings for adults (around $10) or 500 Kenyan shillings for children (around $5). For more information, visit GiraffeCentre.org. Oh, and here’s my new video giving you a taste of this fantastic place: