As I ascend the steps to the raised platform, I’m instantly greeted by the most graceful of animals – a beautiful giraffe. Her head brushes against my shoulder and then dips to my hand, long blue tongue flicking out to explore for treats. I quickly grab a handful of feed from a nearby bucket and hold the pellets out one by one, rewarded each time by its gentle removal from my fingers by that incredibly long and strong tongue that winds it way around my hand to grab the prize. I’m at The African Fund For Endangered Wildlife, more commonly known as the Giraffe Centre.
Founded in 1983, the main aim of the centre lies in the conservation and breeding of the highly endangered Rothschild Giraffe. There are a number of adult females living at the centre. Their offspring are reared and then released into areas of Kenya’s National Parks where they can hopefully thrive and grow to parent the next generation of these awesome animals.
At the time of my visit, there was one adorable baby giraffe, just learning to eat the pellets offered by visitors to the centre. There’s plenty of grassland and trees for natural grazing, but the pellets are used as treats to allow visitors the chance to interact with the giraffes. Place a pellet between your lips and you can even have a sloppy giraffe kiss!
The pellets are free of charge and, although the sign states ‘two handfuls per person’, the keepers were perfectly willing to hand out a limitless supply.
The main aim of the centre, aside from its breeding programme, is the education of Kenya’s youth. School visits at reduced prices are offered every morning, with the staff leading informative sessions to teach the importance of wildlife conservation in the country. As well as these school visits, the centre also offers free visits for underprivileged children from the local area.
After talking at length to an intern (God bless the interns, just like my guide, Joy, from the Gedi Ruins), I was offered a chance to apply for free places for the children of Future Stars. The centre has a bus capable of collecting 48 children and 2 teachers from anywhere in Nairobi. They can provide a day of wildlife education and refreshments. There was no time to organise such a visit during my time in Kenya, but I will submit the application anyway and hope that the children have a great time without me.
It’s the money raised from visitors’ entry charges and sales in the shop that allow the centre to offer these free and discounted trips for local children. Therefore, even though many of the souvenirs can be picked up more cheaply elsewhere, it might not be a bad place to spend your money. Of course, there are also a few items specific to the centre that can make a nice momento of your day.
Also on site is a nature walk where you can really get up close to the wildlife, including more giraffes. Be careful to stay at least 50 feet away from the giraffes though as they can hit very hard with their heads when they swing their long necks.
Getting there: It’s not the easiest place to get to by public transport but it’s possible. I got a matatu from Galleria Mall to Hardy and then took the, fairly long, dusty walk down a quiet road to the centre. You pass Giraffe Manor, an exclusive hotel where giraffe roam the grounds and join you through the windows at breakfast! It’s possible to get a motorbike ride from the main road at Hardy if you don’t fancy the walk. Alternatively, the giraffe centre will usually be included on a private tour that takes in the nearby elephant orphanage.
Cost: Entry is 1000 shillings for a non-resident adult. Reductions for students, residents, and citizens.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm every day, including public holidays.
Don’t forget: You may want to take some hand wipes or alcohol gel to clean your hands before and after feeding the giraffes just in case the supply of soap has run out. Also, if you want to do the nature walk, I would recommend a hat.
Why visit: Because it’s fun! Where else will you get this close to a giraffe? Also, your visit is helping Kenya. You are supporting the conservation efforts for vulnerable endangered animals and also helping to educate the next generation of Kenyans to respect their wild neighbours, hopefully raising awareness of the issues and protecting the natural world for the future.