July 20, 2010

Giraffe Manor.

Its reputation precedes it, for better or worse.

In September, before even landing in East Africa, I was told by a fellow penniless intern in DC, "You must visit the famous giraffe hotel in Nairobi." My curiosity was piqued.

After my arrival here, I stumbled across a feature on this same "very special hotel in Nairobi" in one of my favorite blogs. The author's desire to visit Kenya was confirmed after seeing the movie Out of Africa. As someone who described staying in a tent as neither her idea of fun nor a proper vacation, her dream vacation to Africa centers around "fabulous" 5 star accommodations, including this one. My interest began to wane.

Momentarily breaking ourselves free from the rather aggressive pursuits of tourist touts at Jomo Kenyatta airport, we asked a local man for his ideas of what we must see and do during our one day in Nairobi, "Oh, you must go to the Giraffe Center." He was the 3rd person within 20 minutes time to tell us we must visit this place. My waning interest turned to outright aversion. This has got to be a tourist trap we both agreed.

Despite this, later that day we ended up face to face with a family of giraffes, allowing them to lick pellets out of the palms of our hands. After a long trek through Ngong Hills, followed by a leisurely lunch, we still had several hours ahead of us before needing to return to the airport, and so we ended up at the Giraffe Manor. Our visit actually proved quite an interesting diversion.

The Giraffe Manor was built in 1932 by David Duncan of the "Macintosh Toffee" family, and is modelled on a Scottish hunting lodge. This mansion is complete with views of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the south and Ngong Hills to the west. This seemed an apt follow-up to our tour of Karen Blixen's home. In 1974, the grandson of a Scots Earl, Jock Leslie Melville and his American wife Betty bought the Manor to use as their home. Shortly thereafter, they moved two highly endangered Rothschild giraffe onto the estate where future generations have continued to thrive and live today. The Rothschild giraffe lost much of their natural habitat in western Kenya and faced extinction. Jock and Betty founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), and the Giraffe Center was built on their property to provide a venue for Kenyan schoolchildren could learn more about conservation and ecology, complete with the ability to feed giraffe eye to eye. During our visit there, we were surrounded by excited and curious children in purple uniforms.

Profits from the admission fees paid to the Giraffe Center support various conservation projects in Kenya. When Jock died in 1984, Betty returned to the US and opened her house to visitors and it has continued to delight visitors ever since.

Photo Credit:
last photo: http://www.giraffemanor.com/docs1/history.htm

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