Africa Kenya Nairobi baby giraffe centre

I moved to Nairobi, Kenya a few months ago. I relocated here with my boyfriend but never did I imagine I would end up kissing someone else. However, that is exactly what happened on my first weekend in Nairobi when I visited The Giraffe Centre.

I kissed a giraffe and I liked it!

Africa Kenya Nairobi kissing a giraffe

A line I never thought I’d cross.

I feel Katy Perry would have had even more success if she had renamed her song and instead sung about giraffes! The Giraffe Centre, located in the rich, fancy, mzungu part of town is a must visit for anyone transiting through Nairobi. It is home to a number of endangered Rothschild Giraffes, which are only found on the grasslands of East Africa. Unless you have incredible luck whilst out on safari this is the best opportunity to get personal with these beasts.

The Giraffe Centre

The Centre was started by Jock Leslie-Melville, when he and his wife ‘captured’ (I’m not going to ask!!!!) a baby giraffe. Their intention was to start a captive breeding program and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The entrance fee is relatively reasonable particularly considering the encounter you have, although the place is quite small. Staff at the Centre hand out pellets to visitors enabling each and every person to hand feed the giraffes. For the brave (who aren’t afraid of offending their boyfriend) you can even kiss the giraffe! Pop the pellet between your lips and lean out for a big slobbery smooch from the longest, bluest tongue. Don’t fear the saliva – it is a natural antiseptic!

Africa Kenya Nairobi hand-feeding giraffe

No teeth, all tongue!

Conservation V Tourism

The giraffes come and go from the feeding platforms – located at eye or ground level – or freely roam the grounds. Aside from being hand fed, the giraffes can also feed off the few acacia trees scattered around the place. It seems most enjoy the pellets but I’m not sure how I feel about this…

The Centre – although providing an unforgettable experience – had me questioning a few things. Are these giraffes bred and released to supplement dwindling populations? Do they have sufficient space to roam? Are they able to get enough vegetative material to sustain them or are they hooked on these pellets? Are the young even taught to feed from trees or do they simply accept the processed food offered by tourists?

Africa Kenya Nairobi baby giraffe centre

Is this baby reliant on my handful of pellets?

What is the point?

The official website offers little in the way of answers and there is even less posted around the visitors centre. According to the internet (the source of all wisdom) a number of Rothschild breeding pairs have been introduced into national parks. However the details are vague and difficult to find.

On a positive, the Centre seems to prioritise the education of Kenyan youth as a means at improving conservation methods. Whilst I agree with this education to visitors who may arrive in time for a pre-planned presentation would also be of value.

The cost of conservation education

I’m currently volunteering within a slum in Nairobi. The primary school there recently had a field trip for the students to The Giraffe Centre. Three bus loads of hyped up excitable children from Mukuru were sent out for the day to learn about conservation. For many of the children the 800KSH fee was too high and so a number were left behind. The fee for foreigners is entirely affordable and whilst residents and citizens are subsidised, it is out of reach for those that are poorest. The poor make up a large proportion of the Kenyan population, with many being children. These are precisely the children that would greatly benefit from the education the Centre offers. Afterall, isn’t the fate of the natural world in the hands of the next generation?

Africa Kenya Nairobi giraffe centre black&white

Shouldn’t we all have the chance to meet with a Rothschild?

The Footprint Scale

Footprints and Photos - 3/5 on the Footprint Scale

The Giraffe Centre: 3/5 footprints

IF the breeding and release is occurring and monitoring is ongoing to confirm it’s success then this place may score higher. The fact is I just don’t know. The hand-feeding, whilst an incredible experience, seems unnecessary and potential harmful. Go, but be mindful.

Have you had any incredible wildlife encounters? I’d love to hear all about it. Or if you’d like to see more beautiful East African faces check out this photo essay.