Giraffe eating
Animals,  Kenya,  Lens-Artists,  Travel galleries

Giraffe Manor: getting up close and personal

Turn your back on a hungry giraffe who knows you have a pocketful of her favourite treats and you can expect to be ‘nudged’ into handing over the goodies. Stacey was quick to remind me, with a gentle head butt, that she expected my full attention, but it was more playful than painful. And as she was happy to pose for photos in return for the pellets I dropped on to her thick purplish-grey tongue, we were each rewarded by our encounter.

A year or so ago I saw an episode of the TV programme ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby’ which featured Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor. In an ideal, money-no-object, world we might well have chosen to stay there when we overnighted in that city, but the next best thing was a visit to the adjacent Giraffe Centre.

Ivy-clad house among trees
Giraffe Manor

The centre was founded in 1979 by the owners of the house that was to become Giraffe Manor. They were aware that the Rothschild’s giraffe, which is found only in East Africa, was in grave danger of extinction. They brought two, whom they named Daisy and Marlon, from the grassland where they lived (which was threatened with development) to their suburban home here in Nairobi. Using funds from their Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.) Kenya, they set up projects to move threatened groups of giraffes to safe areas.

Meanwhile Daisy and Marlon mated, and their calves formed the basis for a breeding centre for the Rothschild’s giraffe. The aim is to expand the gene pool in the wild population; to use the centre to educate people about the plight of these beautiful creatures; and to raise funds for their successful breeding programme on various reserves.

Visiting the centre

Here you can interact with and feed the giraffes. The raised platform area offers the chance to meet them literally face to face. Staff hand out pellets of food which you can give to the giraffes one at a time. You either place one on a long grey tongue, or hold it on the palm of your hand for the recipient to take, like feeding sugar lumps to a horse.

The giraffes clearly enjoy the pellets and as I said are not beyond giving you a head butt if you turn away, so you need to watch out. Each of them has his or her own personality. Visiting families are warned that Daisy IV (named after the original Daisy) doesn’t really like children; while Salma likes to greet guests with an especially sloppy kiss!

For a wildlife keen photographer this is a wonderful opportunity to get closer to a giraffe than you might ever have thought possible. Did you know, for instance, that their tongues are this purplish-grey? And their eyelashes are so luxuriant they could quite easily be wearing mascara!

For this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge, It’s a Small World, Anne suggests we share close-up or macro photos. I don’t have the specialist equipment to shoot the latter; but I do like getting close to a subject in effort to present it in a new or unusual light. I hope my giraffe photos will offer a different perspective on these gentle creatures. And if you’re wondering about the set-up at Giraffe Manor, here are a few more general shots to set the scene.

I visited Nairobi in 2018


  • Lesley Russell

    It is such a privilege to get so close to these wonderful animals – how lucky were you to stay at this fabulous place.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Lesley, a privilege indeed 🙂 But as I said above, a stay here would have blown our budget so we only visited the giraffe centre on a morning excursion from our much more reasonable city hotel 😆

  • Tina Schell

    I hadn’t heard of this place before Sarah – what a wonderful experience it must have been. In Botswana one morning as daylight had just broken on the savannah, about 20 giraffes were crossing over from Namibia. They were ambling gracefully along in a perfectly spaced line, the sun shining on their beautiful coats. It was a moment firmly planted in my memory. Your post reminded me of that moment, for which I thank you! They’re so bizarre with their long necks and long eyelashes aren’t they?! You got such good closeups of them!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, that sounds such a special experience Tina! It was actually a bit of serendipity that brought us here. When we planned our trip to Botswana we originally looked at flights via Johannesburg but that meant a very long overnight leg from Heathrow and not very convenient connections there. So I hunted for alternatives and decided to go via Nairobi which meant we could take day-time flights although would have to overnight there. We added an extra night on the outbound leg to give us a chance for some sightseeing and our tour operator proposed a visit here and to the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage (post in due course, no doubt) 😀

  • starship VT

    Sarah, a great experience for you with these majestic creatures to be sure and your photos are an excellent testament to that! Your ‘up close and personal’ opportunities with elephants and giraffes are to be envied. Wish I could have been in your pocket when you visited those places.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Sylvia 😀 We have indeed been fortunate to have these close encounters with such wonderful animals. Fortunately there are now many places around the world where you can do so responsibly without causing any distress to them – indeed, while helping (financially) to conserve them 🙂

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