Giraffe Manor provides guests with one of Kenya’s best safari experiences: the unique and thrilling opportunity to have breakfast with giraffe in a gracious, colonial home in the outskirts of Nairobi. During your stay, you’ll also learn the fascinating story of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe at a local conservation centre.
I opened my eyes, rolled over and looked out of the window at rolling green lawns. In the distance, loping slowly towards the manor house, was a group of graceful Rothschild’s giraffe. I couldn’t wait for breakfast, knowing it was to be like no other I’d ever experienced. Breakfast with giraffe: what a ridiculously marvellous idea!
My partner and I had arrived the previous afternoon at Giraffe Manor, a fine old homestead and exclusive boutique hotel set on some 60ha of private land in the outskirts of Nairobi. The house is modelled on a Scottish hunting lodge, and was constructed in 1932 by Sir David Duncan, a member of the Mackintosh family. I loved its stately façade, elegant interiors, verdant gardens, sunny terraces and delightful courtyards: wonderfully colonial and old world.
The moment we stepped through the front door, my partner exclaimed: ‘It’s just like walking into a scene from the film Out of Africa. Where are Robert Redford and Meryl Streep?’ Indeed, one of the six suites is named after Karen Blixen, who wrote the book the film was based on.
Our room had elegant furnishings, Art Deco touches and a large four-poster bed with romantic mosquito netting. Dinner was a lavish and delicious affair with fine wine (even the glass stems were in the shape of giraffe). Getting to sleep that night was a bit tricky, as we were so thrilled by the prospect of breakfast (not something I’d ever experienced before – I mean, breakfast is nice and all, but not really something one’s prone to get excited about!). This unique experience is only available to guests at the manor.
Shortly after purchasing the house in 1974, Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville learned that the only remaining Rothschild’s giraffe in Kenya were in grave danger. The Kenyan government had bought a privately-owned ranch at Soy, near Eldoret, with the intention of subdividing the land into smallholdings. The 7,300ha constituted the creatures’ sole habitat, and the giraffe were going to be slaughtered.
Since the manor was already home to three – wild bull giraffe nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry – the Leslie-Melvilles agreed to rehome one of the giraffe. She was a 2.4m, 200kg baby they called Daisy, about whom Betty subsequently wrote the book Raising Daisy Rothschild, later turned into the film The Last Giraffe.
Daisy was soon joined by another baby giraffe, Marlon (named after Marlon Brando). Since then the manor, in conjunction with bodies such as Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire, England, has run a breeding programme to reintroduce Rothschild’s giraffe into the wild and to expand the gene pool. At any one time the manor has about a dozen giraffe in residence.
It was breakfast time. Each morning, the giraffe come to the house and poke their heads through the open windows hoping for a treat, before heading back to their forest sanctuary. We were able to feed the long-necked creatures straight from our breakfast table, and, later, even through our bedroom window.
Having a big horse-like head, long inquisitive tongue and mascara-like eyelashes up close and personal is utterly amazing. I was smitten! We learnt later that many famous guests – including Mick Jagger, Brooke Shields and Richard Branson – had been similarly entranced by the experience.
Part of the estate is given over to the Giraffe Centre, run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), a charitable organisation set up by Jock Leslie-Melville. We visited there one afternoon to find out more.
The centre was established as a core breeding site for Rothschild’s giraffe, which are then reintroduced into parks and conservancies around Kenya. The giraffe are named after individuals who’ve contributed significantly (whether financially or otherwise) to the work of AFEW, such as Lynn, named after author and journalist Lynn Sherr, who wrote a book about giraffe.
The Giraffe Centre is a non-profit organisation whose main objective is to provide conservation education for school children and the youth of Kenya. All education programmes are offered free of charge. The Giraffe Centre derives 90% of its funds from entrance fees and sales in the gift shop and teahouse.
‘Apart from breeding, we also offer ecology trips, trainers’ workshops, and national environmental competitions, and we produce resource materials,’ said our guide as he showed us around the centre.
Back at the manor, we were just in time to catch the leggy beauties arriving for a spot of afternoon tea with the guests. I was first in line to give them a few nibbles, my smile as broad as their tongues were long!