- Written by Melissa Pawson for Kenyakidz
Patrick, a seven year old Giraffe Centre giraffe has been moved to the wild in a bid to support breeding of the Rothschild giraffe which in 2010 was declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Patrick, last seen at the centre by Kenyakidz when he was only two, has since been translocated to the wild, a trip he made when he was four years old.
Through translocating young giraffes like Patrick to the wild, the Giraffe Centre supports and protects populations of Rothschild giraffes outside of the centre, allowing them to thrive in their natural habitat. While some stay, many of the giraffes bred at the centre go on to various locations in Kenya, including Lake Nakuru National Park, Mwea Game Reserve, Ruma National Park, Nasalot Game Reserve, Soysambu Conservancy, and Sergoit.
Kelly, mother to Patrick and another giraffe who we also met in our last trip four years ago is however still at the centre. She is now 15 years old. In a bid to re-connect with this old friend, I climb the stairs to the platform where the feeding takes place but I am met by Salma instead.
Salma slurps her treats appreciatively off my hand with her delicate grey tongue, then dips her head over the railings again to check if there are any left. I could not resist going to get another handful for her and she gazed at me as I came back, definitely approving of my decision.
Later, I am able to catch a glimpse of Kelly who was just keeping a low profile. Salma and Kelly are among nine giraffes living at the centre. They all belong to a subspecies called the Rothschild giraffe, and along with the West African giraffe, it is endangered – only a few hundred exist in the wild today. Its endangered status means that programmes which enable safe habitats and breeding environments for the Rothschild Giraffe are essential in order for them to continue to survive.
The present Giraffe Centre began life as the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W. Kenya), set up by Jock Leslie-Melville. His wife, Betty, set up the A.F.E.W. USA which also supports the centre by raising funds from the other side of the world. The centre now sees numbers of between 200 and 700 local and international visitors a day, who all flock to see the tallest land animal in the world.
Not only does the couple’s legacy live on through the centre, it also survives in giraffes Betty and Jock junior. At sixteen, Betty is the oldest giraffe at the centre, and Jock junior arrived five years ago from Eldoret, after the older Jock, who lived to the age of eighteen, died in 2009.
There are now over 300 Rothschild giraffes living in different locations in Kenya, safe and breeding, thanks to funds raised by A.F.E.W. Kenya and A.F.E.W. USA. This number has more than doubled since the original 120, which were living on a ranch in Western Kenya. The ranch was set to be divided and turned into settlements before Betty Leslie-Melville discovered and relocated some of the giraffes to her own home.
Of the nine giraffes living at the centre, Chance told me that one in particular, Ed, is a very good kisser, and extremely friendly.
“When you pet Ed, he likes to lean on you,” he said.
I inquire if any of the giraffes are a bit mischievous, and he said that, “after drinking water, [the giraffes] might spray it in the visitors’ faces, or some even try to peck your neck to get your attention.” I must have looked concerned, because he went on to assure me that they are just being playful, and giraffes are really very good-natured animals.
The Giraffe Centre regularly organises free trips for groups of under-privileged children, taking them on an ecology excursion around Nairobi’s wildlife sites. The day trip covers Nairobi National Park, Animal Orphanage, and the Ostrich and Crocodile Park, as well as the Giraffe Centre, where they can engage in feeding the giraffes and learning about environmental issues.
And it is not only the giraffes, or even young people, who benefit from the centre’s efforts. Before I leave, I take a stroll along the nature trail across the road. Although the path is just off the road, it is peaceful, a small remaining section of the large tracts of dry upland forest which used to exist before the city took over. There are faint footprints of the bushbuck, dikdik, rock hyrax and warthog along the path: I try to spot them through the thick covering of indigenous trees, but I must have just missed them.
The Giraffe Centre has kept these animals’ habitats intact in order to protect their populations, which were threatened by expanding development and settlements. Although they are not the star of the show, these smaller creatures rely just as much on the Giraffe Centre’s efforts as the giraffes do, and their role in the ecosystem is just as important. On my way out, I wave goodbye to Salma and watch her picking her way through the forest, seeking out some quiet time after all that socialising.
The centre is open 9:00am – 5:00pm every day including weekends and all public holidays. Entrance for a resident child is Sh50, for a resident adult is Sh250, for a non-resident child/ student is Sh500 and for a non-resident adult is Sh1000.