A visit to the new-look Nairobi Giraffe Centre

Giraffe Centre

Feeding the giraffes at Nairobi Giraffe Centre.

Photo credit: John Fox | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A lot of emphasis is given to catering for school visits as well as outreach educational activities.
  • The giraffes have many acres of green sanctuary where they can stretch their long legs.

A friend asked if we had been to Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre since its renovation. ‘If not, you will be surprised,’ he said. We hadn’t been there for years; so we went – and we were surprised.

We had been there many times when our two boys were young, and a close-up of Jan gingerly placing a food pellet on the tongue of one of the giraffes, has made it into our family album.

When young, Jan used to be fond of jokes. One of them I remember was:

‘Dad, why is a giraffe’s neck so long?’

‘So he can browse leaves from the top of trees?’

‘No. It’s because his feet smell so bad.’

It was last Sunday that Lut and I followed our friend’s advice. We went well before coffee time, because we were anticipating the Centre would be busy. It already was.

The first surprise was the high-tech entrance – the cashless payment generated a code on our phone, which we could then show to the gatekeeper. And the access to the viewing platform is now via a smart elevated and wheelchair-friendly walkway.

The second surprise was that the charges were displayed as Sh1,500 for non-residents and Sh400 for residents. ‘What about citizens?’ we asked.

‘The same as residents,’ came the answer. We wondered if this meant that the Centre was not really targeting Kenyans – especially when we could see only one little girl with her dad among the visitors on the viewing and feeding platform.

However, when we were later having a chat with David Mutua, who we had just heard making a presentation in the Education Centre, he told us that we had a wrong impression.

‘Stay here till noon,’ he said. ‘You will see plenty of Kenyan families. It’s Sunday, remember. Many Kenyans will be at church, and the others don’t get up early on a Sunday.’

It was an interesting conversation with David. He talked about how he had killed many birds with a catapult when he was a child – like many other children in Machakos where he grew up.

But, later, he became very interested in wildlife and conservation. He said that these days, when he goes back to Machakos, he tries to convince boys to put away their catapults.

Now, David is in a happy place, because he is working for an organisation, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, that is committed to raising the awareness of Kenyan children about the importance of wildlife conservation.

Apart from the opportunity to get close to giraffes (though not close enough to test Jan’s theory about their smelly feet) there is an excellent Education Centre that, with its films, talks, puzzles and competitions, is providing a lot of fun, as well as giving out a lot of information – particularly about the endangered sub-species Rothschild giraffes that are the key actors at the Centre.

A lot of emphasis is given to catering for school visits as well as outreach educational activities.

Over its 40 years, the Centre has engaged with over 2 million children.

Apart from stretching their necks to be fed with small pellets at the viewing platform, the giraffes have many acres of a green sanctuary where they can stretch their long legs.

Also, scuttling across the barer ground close to the Centre, you are bound to see a family of tusked warthogs, with their skinny tails held high when they run.

After a cappuccino at the Centre’s café, we crossed the road and took to the nature trail, for which there is no extra charge. The full walk is 1.5 kilometres, along narrow paths through the indigenous forest.

The recorded number of bird species is 178, and the record sighting in one visit is 60. We saw very few but heard many. You might also see a few of the smaller mammals, such as dik dik, squirrels and, of course, warthogs.

John Fox is Chairman of iDC email: [email protected]