I Kissed a Boy (Giraffe) and I Liked It
Not all Giraffes are good kissers. Edd, the large male and sire to any offspring born at Nairobi’s Giraffe Center, uses a lot of tongue. Too much. His rather long and sticky one could wrap around your neck twice if you let him. Kelly, the medium sized female slobbers as she licks your face leaving drool down your chin. And then there is Pimba, the young male who stole my heart with his gentle, mostly closed mouth, kisses. I kept going back for more. Is that wrong? Dave said it was okay.
Forty minutes from the airport, Giraffe Manor is home to the Giraffe Center, a sanctuary for the Rothschild’s giraffe, remarkable for its ‘socks’. While other types of giraffes, like the Maasai giraffe, are covered in spots from head to toe, Rothschild’s Giraffe has spots that fade to white halfway down its leg like a pair of knee highs. A step into the Giraffe Manor is like stepping back in time to an English hunting cabin complete with dark dense wood flooring and paneling, a creaky staircase leading to the upstairs rooms, and leaded pane windows that swing open and have no practical way to install screens.
More on the giraffes in a moment. First, a public service announcement: If you’re flying into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, be sure to bring a pen. When you arrive, you’ll be herded to an area for filling out a health form exposing to airport officials any health complaints you might have: fever, headache, stomach ache, etc. If I had a dollar for every pen I was asked for at the form counters, I could buy a cup of delicious Kenyan coffee. After impatiently searching our bags, we found one pen buried in my backpack. We made it past the first hurdle to be stopped short while they did a kind of temperature scan on us.
“There is a break out of Ebola in The Congo,” the health guard said when asked.
“I feel great,” I said with as much conviction as I could. It was the truth, but it felt self-serving at the moment.
The heat map image of our bodies confirmed we didn’t have a fever. We went to the form counter, an immigration or customs line. Luckily, we hadn’t sold our one pen because we needed it again. Finally, we earned the right to enter the baggage claim area. My head started to pound when I saw several people from our flight in a long line waiting to file lost baggage claims. About to get out my one pen, I was delighted to see our two overstuffed bags come coasting in on the belt. This long welcome after an equally frustrating experience at Kigali Airport where extreme security is understating the process passengers go through to board a plan. It began with a vehicle search and pat down before we even got to the terminal. Next a luggage scan and pat down before entering the terminal. Finally, a carry-on luggage and a third massage, I mean pat down, to get through gate security. By the time we reached our destination for the evening, Giraffe Manor, we were on edge.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. After checking in and being shown to the “Jock” room, named after the original builder of the manor, the proprietor offered us a late-night dinner set-up in a room reserved for special occasions – they get a lot of honeymooners there. With rose petals scattered across the table of a candlelit room, we feasted on red wine, chicken pie, and salad.
Just then, we heard a ‘thump thump’ outside that sounded like hooves hitting the ground. I went to the window and saw a unicorn, I mean giraffe that looked like a unicorn, in the dim light. It was a young rambunctious male who had left the group in the middle of the night and crossed the sanctuary grounds to romp around the yard – highly unusual. We learned the next day giraffes at the sanctuary have a set schedule. Before reporting to work at the Giraffe Center where they take pictures with tourists while being fed, they come over to the Manor for an early morning snack from the guests staying overnight. At 9am, they leave for work. Around 5pm after the Center closes, they head back to the Manor and get fed by the guests enjoying our ‘High Tea’. We attribute the unicorn’s surprise appearance to be a special welcome for weary travelers. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
Picture of the young gent in the moonlight
Edd, the largest male is also the most benevolent. He lets anyone with giraffe food hug him for a postcard-perfect picture.
He is the tallest and exactly fits in the window of our room.
His sloppy kisses are not for the faint at heart.
Just before I met Edd, the scariest thing happened. As I said before, we got in late, drank wine, saw a unicorn and went to bed around 2am. Start time to see the giraffes before they go to work is 6am. I got up around 6:30am, brushed my teeth and stumbled out the front door, which was wide open, looking for the long-necked creatures. I didn’t see anyone until I went around the corner. Two were being fed by the breakfast guests. I took this picture, then almost got necked myself.
I had accidentally, in my sleep-deprived state, stumbled into an area meant only for the giraffes at that hour. At other hours of the day, people come and go freely. It is the front entrance to the Manor! Well, I didn’t know about the ‘don’t go out the open front door until after 9am rule’. Or, I did but lacked memory of it. The giraffe on the left quickly turned towards me in what I viewed as a confrontational stance. Doesn’t it look confrontational to you?
I panicked and ran. They told me later I shouldn’t have done that. Worse, yet I ran towards the giraffe! It was the only direction I could think to go. Guests were on the other side of that short wrought iron fence. I ran to them for help. The giraffe started to make a really weird movement. She kicked her legs out at her sides and her body swayed like she was galloping in place. I saw those long legs and large hooves dangling dangerously in front of me and could only think of the damage they could do. People watching the spectacle later said things to me like, “you sure can run fast (I can’t)”, “I bet that was disconcerting (understated British)”, “I don’t think I could move so quickly”. I made it to the other side, and the man in charge of ‘safety’ reprimand me for my careless behavior. I was stunned and even a little shaky or I would have fired off something in return. That’s okay, I complained about him on my way out the next day.
Despite the early morning race for my life, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Manor. The food was fabulous and the service impeccable. I would recommend it in a heartbeat, just don’t go out the front door before 9am!
The above picture makes it look easy. Here is the video of the real story of trying to get him to pose.
Some fun facts we learned about giraffes:
Giraffes only sleep 5-30 minutes a day
They can live to be between 20-30 years old in the wild
Their gestation period is 14 months
Lack strict social bonds
Walk within hours of being born
Can urinate for over 2 minutes at a time!
Next up: Lions of the Maasai Mara – Hunting and Mating (seriously we filmed both)