When in Nairobi, a visit to the giraffe sanctuary is an absolute must. The Giraffe Centre was founded in 1979 and has become home to numerous Rothschild Giraffe, a subspecies found only in the grasslands of East Africa, mostly Uganda and Kenya. The Rothschild Giraffe is one of the most endangered distinct populations of giraffe with estimated numbers at only around 1669 (in 2016).
When the Giraffe Centre was founded, there was estimated to be only around 130 of these giraffes left in the wild due to a loss of habitat so the founders of the sanctuary embarked upon rescuing such giraffes and started a breeding programme of the giraffe in captivity. They started with two giraffes who were named Daisy and Marlon. The giraffes have been successfully bred over the years and when the calves are around two or three years old, they are released back into the wild at numerous safe national parks and conservancies within Kenya. This giraffe sanctuary has successfully released over forty giraffes back into the wild. Herds of these majestic creatures have been introduced into Soysambu Ranch at Lake Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley, Kigio Conservancy and the Sergion Ranch in the Mount Elgon region.
In 1983, an educational centre was built on a 60 acre site in Nairobi with a vision to educate, in conjunction with rescuing the Rothschild giraffe. It is this education centre which we visited and it is highly recommended! The cost of entry was most reasonable and we were provided with free titbits to feed the giraffe, and to tempt them to come close to us. There was a magical opportunity to climb the steps to a viewing platform where we were able to get up close and personal with the giraffes and in return for a small treat, numerous sloppy kisses were provided!
Mr Nomad got a faceful of a very long purpley giraffe tongue which was an experience! We were both able to fuss the giraffes which they seemed to enjoy. It was incredibly satisfying to touch the giraffe, to feel their coarse fur and to tickle their ears.
We were able to see the distinctive markings of the Rothschild giraffe which distinguishes it from other species of giraffe. The Rothschild Giraffe are seemingly paler in appearance and their orangey brown patches are less defined, less jagged and sharp in shape. They also do not have markings on their lower legs giving them the impression that they are wearing white socks. Another distinction is that the Rothschild Giraffe is born with five ossicones. There are two large formations on the top of the head which is a feature common to all giraffes, but they have a third in the centre of the forehead and then a further two behind each ear.
Not only were we able to get close to the giraffe on the viewing platform, but we were also able to get very close to them on the ground, where a couple of incredibly tall giraffe leaned over a low wall, towering over us hoping for more tasty morsels to be provided. The Rothschild Giraffe tend to be taller than other giraffe species, reaching heights of up to around 5.88 metres. I had not appreciated exactly how tall they were until we were stood right next to them but whilst they are huge and somewhat imposing, they were not at all intimidating and we never once felt threatened.
They were very gentle and although they move in an ungainly fashion and with an awkward gait, they seemed quite majestic and almost graceful. In the vast enclosure which has been kept like their natural habitat where they seem to thrive, there was also some visiting Warthog who kept attempting to muscle in closer to the crowds of people providing tasty titbits.
We took some time out to test the coffee (which was lovely!) and we sat in the café for some time, observing the giraffes, entranced by them. The giraffe centre provides such a wonderful opportunity to allow people to get closer to a giraffe than may ordinarily be possible and the work that they do in conserving the subspecies is invaluable. A visit to this very special place is an absolute must!