Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interacting with giraffes

Giraffe Manor is a small hotel in the Lang'ata suburb of Nairobi, Kenya which, together with its associated Giraffe Centre, serves as a home to a number of endangered Rothschild giraffes, and operates a breeding programme to reintroduce breeding pairs back into the wild to secure the future of the subspecies.

The Manor was modelled on a Scottish hunting lodge, and was constructed in 1932 by Sir David Duncan, a member of the Mackintosh family of Mackintosh's Toffee fame on 150 acres (61 ha) of land running down to the Mbagathi River, the southern boundary of the city of Nairobi. In the 1960s the Manor was purchased by a local investor who leased it to a succession of people, including the late Dennis Lakin, before it fell into disrepair, unoccupied.

In 1974 the Manor was purchased by Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband Jock, along with 15 acres (6.1 ha) of the original 150 acres. Since then a further 60 acres (24 ha) of those have also been purchased, which along with an additional 40 acres gifted by Peter Beard which used to form part of his "Hog Ranch" has brought the total acreage of the Manor up to 115 acres (47 ha).

[edit] Life as a giraffe sanctuary

Shortly after purchasing the Manor, the Leslie-Melvilles learned that the only remaining Rothschild giraffes in Kenya were in danger due to a compulsory purchase by the Kenyan government of an 18,000-acre privately owned ranch at Soi, part of Lewa Downs, which was their sole habitat. Inevitably the purchase would result in the land being sub-divided into smallholdings, and the giraffes being slaughtered.[1]

Since the Manor was already home to three wild bull giraffes (nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry), the Leslie-Melvilles agreed to rehome one of the giraffes, an eight-foot tall, 450-pound baby they named Daisy, about whom Betty subsequently wrote the book "Raising Daisy Rothschild", later turned into the film The Last Giraffe.[2]

Daisy was soon joined by another baby giraffe, Marlon (named after Marlon Brando), and since then the Manor, in conjunction with locations such as Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire, England, has run a breeding programme to reintroduce the Rothschild giraffe into the wild to expand the gene pool. At any one time the Manor has around a dozen giraffes in residence, although at present there are only eight,[3] and part of the land of the Manor is given over to the Giraffe Centre, run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, a charitable organisation set up by Jock Leslie-Melville in 1972.[4] By tradition the giraffes themselves are named after individuals who have contributed significantly (whether financially or otherwise) to the work of AFEW, such as Lynn, named for author and journalist Lynn Sherr, a giraffe devotee who wrote an entire book devoted to the creature.[5]

In 1983 Rick Anderson, Betty's son from her first marriage, and his wife Bryony, moved into the Manor, and a year later opened the Manor as a small, privately hosted hotel where guests could feed the giraffes from their breakfast table, through the front door, and out of their bedroom window. The Manor has six bedrooms, one of which is furnished with the belongings of Karen Blixen,[6] and all profits from the hotel go to furthering the charitable objectives of AFEW.

Over the years the Manor has welcomed guests such as Mick Jagger, Walter Cronkite (after whom one of the Manor's resident warthogs was named),[4] Johnny Carson, Brooke Shields and Richard Chamberlain, as well as hosting Richard Branson, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman on the launch of Virgin Atlantic's London–Nairobi service in 2007.[7]

In March 2009 the Manor was purchased by Mikey and Tanya Carr-Hartley[8] and now forms part of the Tamimi group of lodges and hotels.[9]

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