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)