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Baby Elephants and Giraffes in Nairobi

Monday, 3 March 2014

It all happened so quickly. One minute, I was standing on the feeding platform at the Giraffe Centre, watching four creatures trot elegantly towards me. Then, before I knew it, one of them was kissing me. The long, rough tongue of a giraffe was on my face, and there was nothing I could do about it.

This was, of course, a bit of a staged event. I had been so giddy with the joy of seeing giraffes at such close quarters, that I did whatever the staff told me. At first, I had held out a handful of large pellets, and one of the animals had eaten from my hand.

“Now, put one in your mouth!”

I didn’t have time to consider the practicalities of this instruction. But as soon as I obeyed, the same beautiful giraffe leant in and ate from my mouth. It’s a strange thing, the tongue of a giraffe. At 50cm long, it can span your entire face with one lick. And, in case you were wondering, it does leave a substantial trail of saliva.

It was only in retrospect that I realised how truly peculiar this was. It also left me wondering how happy a giraffe would be, receiving his dinner in such a bizarre manner.

But as I gazed out upon the land they had to graze, I couldn’t question the beauty of their surroundings. There are 95 acres of indigenous woodland at the centre, which are the remains of the forest that used to border Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

The Giraffe Centre (giraffecenter.org) was founded in 1979, when the Rothschild breed was an endangered species. Only 120 were left in a small area of Western Kenya, which was about to be divided. Two giraffes were brought to Nairobi to breed, with great success. Most of the calves born at the centre are reintroduced to the wild when they are two years of age.

As well as the feeding platform, the centre also houses an educational centre, which is frequently visited by local school children. There’s also a 1.5km trail through some of the dense forestry, where you can spot not only giraffes but an array of wildlife, including warthogs, monkeys and even the occasional leopard.

There’s also a boutique hotel nearby, Giraffe Manor (+254732812896; giraffemanor.com). With rates starting at €750, it certainly isn’t cheap, but at what other hotel will a giraffe stick his head through the window to share your breakfast?

Giraffes aren’t the only creatures being cared for in the area. Just a short distance away is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org), also known as the elephant orphanage.

Once a day, a troop of baby elephants trundle to the middle of a dusty plain, led by a team of staff in bright green jackets. The infants are fed milk as they impatiently jostle for the bottle, nudging each other out of the way as the visitors watch from the sidelines.


When feeding time is over, the herd take to the dusty coloured puddles for a splash around. The staff follow, wielding spades and slinging water over the elephant’s backs to hit the spots their trunks just can’t reach.  




 The sight of baby elephants splashing and playing would melt the coldest heart. The audience was a mix of young and old, both locals and tourists, all of whom were held captive by the spirited herd.  

And when they wandered back to their private nursery, they left a smile on everyone’s face.

This article originally appeared in the Irish Independent. 

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