Up Close and Personal with Giraffes

In Africa's national parks, as in all other wildlife sanctuaries everywhere, "Do Not Feed The Animals" is the usual No. 1 rule. Which is worth heeding. Unless one is crazy enough to feed a lion which does not know when a food ends and when fingers begin.

But in Nairobi's Giraffe Centre (officially known as African Fund for Endangered Wildlife), feeding animals is an encouraged activity. Here, visitors both young and old, take turns offering food pellets using their outstretched hands to a bunch of giraffes wanting a quick meal.

Thank God giraffes don't have fangs.

They have instead Purell-like saliva and tongues longer than Gene Simmons.

Feeding platform

The Giraffe Centre was established in 1979 in an effort to rescue endangered Rothschild's giraffes. Named after the zoologist Lord Walter Rothschild who first noted these animals during his early 1900s East Africa expeditions, they're distinct from the other giraffe subspecies.

Prior to this trip, all I knew was that giraffes were all the same tall animals. How wrong I was.

When it comes to ossicones (those protuberances on their heads), Rothschild's giraffes have five "horns" instead of the usual two. They also have a different coloration of their coats while their less-jagged patches don't extend below their knees.

Learning more about giraffes
A juvenile reaches for food

What's sad  is there's only less than 700 of them left in the wild today - thus the endangered status. Their range used to extend all the way to Sudan but human encroachment, poaching and habitat loss have now limited their tiny population to Kenya and Uganda.

It was because of this threat that a breeding programme was initiated at the Giraffe Centre. Located in the Langata suburb of Nairobi, the Centre's 100-acre upland dry forest  is an apt breeding site. Over 50 successfully bred calves were introduced (after reaching 2 years of age) to selected sanctuaries in Kenya.

Meanwhile, those remaining at the Centre are the ones getting fed by visitors.

Giraffe's natural food: umbrella thorn acacia

Being so tall, it is a strain for giraffes to bend down to feed. So after Centre staff handed us food pellets, we positioned ourselves on the feeding platforms, raised ideally enough for the animal's long neck. One by one, they approached us gently, their mouths opened, tongues sticking out.

Without batting an eyelash, the giraffe's long tongue quickly snatched the food pellets away, its saliva staying on my hand, sticking like a freshly applied alcohol gel. School kids nearby squeal in delight.

In the wild, giraffes prefer to munch on the leaves of thorny acacia trees. Ouch. It may sound painful but thanks to their thick, antiseptic saliva, their tongues are miraculously unscathed.

Eating with thorns is certainly unusual.  More so when it is a lifelong need for these animals. The last thing I want to see is for giraffes being fed nails on a circus around town.


  1. Purell, now that description made me think their saliva is as thick as monster goo. Eww... That being said, I think I'd like to try and feel it myself.

    1. Haha! My Purell description was more in the context of its antiseptic property :)
      Besides feeding them, you can also engage in some smooching with a giraffe as some people did.

  2. this entry reminds me of my childhood dream to see a real Giraffe:)

  3. Did not know they are endangered.

    1. I thought the same until I realized it's a particular subspecies.

  4. Hi Dennis,
    Ha! Ha! I like your description of their saliva and toungue! Pretty funny.
    I saw few Rotschild giraffes in Tanzania, but I didn't realize they were endangered. Pretty sady, they're such adorable species.

  5. Just looking at them gently move across the savannah is already a treat isn't it?


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