Nairobi Giraffe Centre provides one of Africa’s most surreal wildlife experiences.
On the outskirts of a bustling capital city you can kiss the world’s tallest animal. Tongues are always involved. This is no peck on the cheek – at the Nairobi Giraffe Centre you share a snog with an endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
Oh, and the centre is helping to rehabilitate the most endangered giraffe subspecies. So this isn’t just a bit of fun, it’s serious wildlife conservation as well.
Nairobi Giraffe Centre is one of the Kenyan capital’s most popular attractions. This video and article has all you need to know.
Where is the Nairobi Giraffe Centre?
This kissing encounter can be found in the suburb of Karen, in western Nairobi. Karen has another great wildlife destination, the Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage. Tours here encounter both four-legged giants and take place at 11am every day.
Karen is a good place to stay before or after a safari. The suburb is on the same side as the airport, so you don’t need to spend hours stuck in Nairobi’s famous traffic.
Nairobi National Park is another nearby attraction. Here you can go on a surprisingly good big-game safari, with lions, rhinos and other great African animals.
The Giraffe of the Nairobi Giraffe Centre
Rothschild’s are the most endangered of the nine giraffe subspecies. The IUCN believes the total global population is now under 1500. Fortunately their population is increasing and that is mostly down to the Nairobi Giraffe Centre.
Traditionally these giraffe are native to Uganda and parts of western Kenya. Their population dwindled during the Ugandan civil war but this gentle giant has returned, with a growing population in Murchison Falls National Park.
Rothschild’s are one of the most distinguishable giraffe species. They have sharp orange-brown patches divided by creamy lines. You can easily identify them through their ossicones, short lumps protruding from their heads. Rothschild’s giraffe have five. All other giraffe only have two to three.
The giraffe living at the centre are all part of a rehabilitation program. Some of these were born at the centre and others have been relocated from places of habitat destruction across Kenya. The centre aims to return these animals to the wild once they turn three years old.
The centre’s exact population changes year on year but there are usually 10-15 giraffe being cared for at any time. 46 giraffe have been released to the wild and these now live in parks like Lake Nakuru and Mount Kenya.
Feeding and Kissing Giraffe – Planning a Visit
For all its good conservation work, the Nairobi Giraffe Centre is famous for one on one encounters with these gentle giants.
Every visitor pays an entrance fee and 90% of this fee goes towards giraffe conservation. So by making a visit you will be contributing to the ongoing survival of these animals.
The entrance fee is very reasonable considering how close you can get. As of 2019 it is 1500 Kenyan shillings for non-residents (approximately USD 10).
Everyone entering the centre wants to see giraffe straight away. But first you need to walk through a series of information boards. This is the educational part of Nairobi Giraffe Centre and it is very inspiring, learning about these creatures before you see them.
The giraffe are usually browsing in the vicinity, picking leaves from trees or moping about on the lush African savannah. Staff at the centre try to help ensure that there is always one or two giraffe at the feeding point.
Giraffe are big so you will need to get up to their level. A wooden platform is raised on stilts above the savannah and the giraffe poke their heads through to say hello.
Staff carry buckets of pellets. It looks like rabbit feed and the Rothschild’s giraffe seem to love it. They happily stick out their tongues and take the feed straight off your hand.
Rothschild’s giraffe have these incredibly long and rather disgusting dark tongues. They are like lassos, extending from on high and slurping up all the pellets. Whenever a giraffe sees a pellet its tongue goes out.
So how do you kiss a giraffe? Easy, put a pellet between your lips and wait for that big roving tongue!
It’s slimy, slurpy, pretty disgusting and not something that can be recommended. But still, what an iconic experience!
Tips for Visiting Nairobi Giraffe Centre
Most people only spend one or two days in Nairobi. The Kenyan capital is usually a necessary layover as part of a Kenya safari or Tanzania safari.
That means most people don’t get the luxury of choosing when they visit. Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at Nairobi Giraffe Centre, as the centre receives hundreds of local visitors. Such crowds do detract from the experience, not least because giraffe are bashful animals that shy away from noise.
It’s better to visit on a weekday. Another tip is to visit when the centre has just opened at 9am. After a full day of feeding and kissing the giraffe are not as sociable, so you can miss out by visiting late in the afternoon.
Nairobi Giraffe Centre History
AFEW Kenya was founded in 1979 by Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of British descent whose great vision saw a need for both an educational facility as well as a place to rescue the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
At the time there were only 120 individuals left, on an 18,000 acre ranch in western Kenya scheduled to be dismantled. Today however, there are over 650 Rothschild’s giraffes, all safe and breeding well in various locations around the country.
Nairobi Giraffe Centre was opened and now aims to educate Kenyan school kids about their wildlife and environment, as well as to give local and international visitors an opportunity to get close encounters with the world’s tallest species.
A Stay at Giraffe Manor
Rothschild’s giraffe roam a stretch of Nairobi bush and poke their heads through the window of a hotel next door to the centre.
This hotel is the world-famous Giraffe Manor and is run by The Safari Collection. Some of the profits from the manor are used for conservation so any stay will support these animals.
The iconic image is of Rothschild’s giraffe putting their necks through the first-floor bedroom windows, as guests are eating breakfast. This does not happen every morning nor is it experienced by everyone.
While a stay at Giraffe Manor can provide these beautiful encounters, remember that these animals are not pets so no experience can be guaranteed.
Giraffe Manor is incredibly popular and usually books up at least six months in advance. For June to August plus December it is typically booked out more than a year in advance.
Guests who stay at another Safari Collection property enjoy priority for Giraffe Manor bookings. These include Solio Lodge on the Laikipia Plateau, Sala’s Camp in the Masai Mara, and Sasaab in Samburu.
Continue the Giraffe Experience
You don’t have to do the kissing. You don’t have to do any feeding either. Coming face to face with these wonderful animals is a charming experience, regardless of whether you kiss or touch.
Kenya has some stunning safari destinations where you can see giraffe in a wilder natural habitat. Masai giraffe roam the Masai Mara while reticulated giraffe can be encountered in the Samburu.