"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch. 29: The Touch of a Giraffe

 Ch. 29:    The Touch of a Giraffe

In the late 1970s, the compulsory purchase by the Kenyan government of a privately-owned farm bit deeply into the habitat of the Rothschild giraffe in western Kenya.    The land was to be divided into small land-holdings to resettle squatters from other sites.   Most likely the remaining, endangered giraffes would be slaughtered.

When Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville, Kenyans of British and American descent respectively, heard about the plight of these graceful animals, they were able to obtain a young pair to add to the three Rothschild giraffes already in Nairobi.   With that began a program of breeding and protecting this sub-species found only in the savannahs of Africa.

Along with an educational program that reaches out to schoolchildren to teach them about conservation, Giraffe Centre provides everyone an opportunity to inter act with giraffes.
And thus came my bucket list chance to touch a giraffe.   Little did I realize that that long-for touch would come in a most unexpected way.

We are escorted across the grounds of Giraffe Manor, through an opening in the chain link fence, and onto the grounds of Giraffe Centre.

Our guide gives us a handful of pellets roughly the size of ear plugs and demonstrates how to feed a giraffe.   There are a number of the long-necked critters anxious for these pellets made of corn, wheat, grass, and molasses.   They are crazy about them.

See the light-colored giraffe.   She and I are about to have a close encounter.

I do the whole tourist thing—feeding them from my hand, then one at a time, and then placing one between my lips and letting that long black tongue gently remove the appealing pellet.  Saliva?   A bit, but the thick, sticky giraffe saliva is said to contain antiseptic qualities that protect the giraffe’s tongue from infection.   Acacia leaves , their favorite food, has long thorns.

The guide takes the three of us into an auditorium where educational programs are presented.   She talks about the animals, and shows the skull and shin bone of a giraffe.  It is not only immense, but solid and heavy.   I have to use both hands to lift it.

They might look like they're walking on stilts, but they are stout stilts!

Then, we’re back out on the platform, feeding giraffes again.   This is my chance.

I have pellets in my hand and as a giraffe named Kelly reaches down to eat them, I turn around with my back to her and touch her front shoulder.   This is perfectly acceptable.   The giraffes don’t mind body touches but they do not like to have their heads touched.

The thrill of fulfilling a long-held bucket list item is brief.  Kelly finishes the pellets in my hand while my back is still turned to her.   I move forward to get more pellets, but she is impatient.

The next thing I know, she has given me a love-tap with the side of her face.   It knocks me into next Sunday.   I’m stunned, but not out.   Well, maybe out on my feet, but the referee isn’t counting to ten.   Yet.

Greg and Charlie are concerned, but I assure them I’m okay.

So, how does a giraffe feel?   Is its coat coarse or soft?   Is the hair long or short?   Was the experience everything I’d hoped it would be?

I have no idea.   Whatever tactile sensations I might have experienced were knocked clean out of my memory.

For now, I realize two things:   1) I have a new appreciation for what those two male giraffe were going through on the plains of the Masai Mara when they swung those heads with the power in their long necks and upper bodies and bashed each other, and 2)  These are wild animals and don’t forget it.

With my senses still a bit scrambled, we head back to Giraffe Manor with the guide.   Just as we reach the opening in the fence, she stops us.   A young giraffe has found its way into the enclosure where the acacia saplings are growing.   The youngster is shooed out and we proceed a bit farther before we come to another halt.

What this means is that only the yooung giraffe can get into the enclosure.

Several giraffe are close to the manor and the policy is to keep the guests away from the free-roaming animals.  One of those giraffe is Kelly, the one that head-butted me.  We are now in between her and her six-month old calf, the one in the enclosure.

 Manor staff aids in moving the giraffe aside so we can approach.

Kelly, the head-butter.

And then, it’s time for high tea with the giraffe.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch.28: Chasing the Bucket List

Ch. 27:   Chasing the Bucket List

Long before the 2007 movie The Bucket List gave a name to that hope chest of Things-to-do-before-I-Die, I had one.   It had only four items on it back then.

Two were from my childhood:  1) go to Tibet, and, 2)  visit Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig’s magnificent castle in Bavaria.   The third item was added during my twenties:  see whatever sculptures by Michelangelo that I could.

I recall the exact moment I added the fourth item to the list.   It was in the mid-1980s and I was a passenger on a tour coach, gazing out a rain-spattered window as we drove through the Japanese city of Kyoto.  Suddenly, I saw the unmistakable pattern of a giraffe’s hide.

I saw only the neck.   The head was obscured by trees and the body by a high wall.  I turned in my seat and marveled at that disembodied neck for as long as it was in view, which—given the rain, the city traffic, and the lush vegetation—lasted perhaps half a block.  What was a giraffe’s coat like to the touch, I wondered.   Was it coarse; was it soft?  Was it long; was it short?  

Item Number Four:   Touch a giraffe.

Today, as we fly from the Masaai Mara back to Nairobi, is my best chance to fulfill the fourth and last item on that bucket list.   Mind you, I’m talking about that original list.   It has since grown exponentially with the passing years.


Our departure from the Mara airstrip was delayed only a little by boys playing with their toys:   Greg with his Go-Pro camera and our pilot mounting it under the wing of the plane.  No problem with being delayed a few minutes because having the camera on the wing meant  that we flew lower than usual so the camera would record the landscape.

The boys plotting how to attach Greg's Go-Pro camera to the wing.

Well, well, well,.   There was already a mount on the wing and a relatively simple matter to attach Greg's camera.

Shortly after we arrived in Nairobi and were transported through the traffic, we arrived at a tall gate with a rock bunker off to the side.   It had gun slits, troughs for pouring boiling oil onto the attackers, crenellations for the defenders to hide behind while they launched their arrows and spears, and….   

Our ride.

 No, wait.   It’s just a security gate, African style, which means it was very, very secure.

The security bunker is at right.

Charlie, left, me and Greg.   Note how tall Greg is.   There will be a test later.

A short drive through a pleasant glade, and there we were:   Giraffe Manor, a boutique hotel dedicated to having its guests enjoy the company of very tall guests that that stick their heads into your personal space and kiss you with their very long black tongues.

  We are met at the front door and check into the hotel.   Then, we are escorted to our room.   The three of us are staying in the Denys Finch-Hatton suite.

Reception area.

If that name sounds slightly familiar, then the name of his girlfriend should be quite familiar:   Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pen name Isek Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa.  There is a room in Giraffe Manor named after Blixen, and contains some of her personal possessions.

Greg assigns me to the king-sized bed downstairs.  He and Charlie take the two twin beds upstairs.


The shower stall!!!   Larger than some folks' living rooms.

The suite is exquisite, but there’s no time for exploring right now.   We are a bit late for lunch on the patio, so we hurry to get squared away and outside.

Lunch is also exquisite.   There are giraffe motif touches all around.

Sesame chicken.   Delicious

The water pitcher.

No time for lingering after lunch because we are expected for a private tour at the facility next door—Giraffe Centre.   We are met in front of the manor by a young woman armed with only a long stick and escorted across the front grounds of the manor and through an opening in the chain link fence that protects a planting of acacia saplings from the freely-roaming giraffes.   

This is Greg standing in front of the opening in the chain link fence.   I walked under it with ease, but he and Charlie had to duck.   The next installment of these journals will explain why I'm pointing this out.

Just ahead of us are several giraffes, some eating grass from a manger and others being fed by visitors who are safe on a raised platform.

(to be continued)

No, all giraffe are not alike, nor are their patterns within in sub-species.

For more fun facts about giraffes, follow this link: