As an avid watcher of documentaries by UK national hero David Attenborough, and as an unashamed animal lover, Kenya has long held an air of mystery and enticement to me. Images of its extensive savanna’s fill our TV’s, stretching for miles before melting into the shimmer of heat waves. Wild and wonderful animals living the real circle of life.
I have always wanted to go on a ‘proper’ safari in Kenya to appreciate it in as authentic a way as possible (although, can tourism ever be ‘authentic’?)
Thus far, however, the two opportunities I have been given to visit have been to the country’s capital, Nairobi, on work trips. This allowed roughly 24 hours. It was not exactly the amount of time I needed to fulfil my dream of visiting the vast grasslands of Kenya, but it was something.
So, despite advice to the contrary (oops), I decided to make a little excursion out of the hotel to try and experience a snippet of what Nairobi has to offer.
Here’s what I got up to.
The Giraffe Centre
The Giraffe Centre is run by the A.F.E.W. Kenya.
At some point, it is likely you will have seen or heard of a magical place where you can dine with family while giraffes poke their heads through the window. That place is Giraffe Manor, and while it is likely a wonderful experience, it also comes with a seriously hefty price tag.
However, the giraffe’s that frequent Giraffe Manor actually reside next door at the Giraffe Centre, where you can see & feed them whilst learning all about efforts to save these majestic creatures, and for a fraction of the price!
The Giraffe Centre raises conservation funds to save the iconic and endangered Rothschild Giraffe and seeks to educate Kenyan school children and youth on the importance of their country’s wildlife and environment. It is a wonderful not-for-profit that deserves recognition and support.
Now, I must admit, I am not a fan of crowds. I much prefer quieter, more personal experiences than typical tourist-y tours. So if you are like me then it’s worth noting that, should you arrive at the wrong time, it can be incredibly busy. BUT, if you wait a little while, there will eventually be a lull in numbers as the tour and school groups move on.
And it’s worth waiting for the quieter moments to truly enjoy the experience, because it does not disappoint.
As you can probably tell, you get to feed the Giraffes with pellets that are provided by the sanctuary. Giraffes have insatiable appetites, so you can bet your bottom dollar that as long as you have pellets handy, there will be slobbery giraffe tongue nearby to gobble them up.
I had the personal pleasure of meeting and feeding Stacey, a rather feisty giraffe whose cheeky attitude I will remember for the rest of my life. And if you’re brave enough, they will take the pellets straight out of your mouth…
After spending some time feeding, stroking and admiring Stacey and her family, we moved on to the next part of our whirlwind, 24 hour trip.
SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST : ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, was founded in 1977 by Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick.
Next on the agenda was a visit to what is perhaps one of my top 5 favourite places in the entire world.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a charity that rescues, rehabilitates and re-wilds orphaned elephants. It also works tirelessly on anti-poaching and community outreach projects, alongside so many other wonderful programmes that have conservation and animal welfare at their core!
On arrival, us and about 100 other visitors were ushered into a muddy ‘arena’, for want of a better description, where the elephants would be brought out by their dedicated keepers for bottle feeding. There we would watch and learn all about the orphans.
Although the first objective of the charity is to rescue elephants, the Trust never turns a blind eye to an animal in need and will rehabilitate wildlife of all kinds when the need arises.
So to our absolute delight, the first little orphan to walk out for feeding was in fact not an elephant at all, but little Maarifa – an orphaned white rhino. She was a tiny example of such an endangered species and a joy to watch.
Next, the elephants were walked out in a single file line all holding the tail of the elephant in front with their trunks. The elephants were split into two groups: the older and the younger orphans.
The newest rescued orphan is covered with a bright colourful blanket to identify them to visitors.
While the elephants had their milk, played with sticks and rolled in mud, the incredible keepers gave a commentary on who each individual elephant is and their often sad story. I was in awe of the passion these keepers had for the welfare of their orphans and their determination to help them achieve a full recovery.
The keepers knew *everything* about every individual elephant. It was sad to hear about how each baby had arrived at the centre; from poaching to human/animal conflict and falling in wells. Each elephant had had an incredibly difficult start in life but were now thriving together with the help of their keepers. It was touching to see how much the elephants trusted their keepers, the less confident ones following their keeper around.
The ultimate goal of the trust is to reintroduce their orphans to the wild as part of a herd, which they have done successfully many times and will continue doing in future. It was a truly touching experience and a visit I will be sure to make again in future.
These two visits made my 24 hours in Nairobi utterly unforgettable and I hope that, should you ever be in Nairobi, you will now be inclined to visit, learn and donate to these important projects!
I think it is easy to be blinded by the amazement of the surface experience – to go home and say ‘I kissed a giraffe’ or ‘I saw the cutest baby elephant!’- without ever mentioning the fundamentally important work of these organisations. And this is where I tend to over-analyse my experience, although in this instance I believe it is justified.
They are fighting an important battle against the devastating human impact on the natural world, particularly poaching, animal exploitation and habitat destruction that has orphaned these animals or reduced their numbers so greatly that future extinction is a real possibility.
As we continue to steam roll our way in this word, it is our moral responsibility to protect, preserve and ensure the survival of all the animals, particularly threatened species such as the Rothschild Giraffe, African Elephant and Rhino, that these organisations work so hard to protect.