Why the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi is Worth a Visit

Imagine looking right into the enormous eyes of the world’s tallest animal. At the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, you can do just that!

An educational sanctuary dedicated to rescuing the endangered Rothschild giraffe, the Giraffe Centre is a fun destination for all ages. Visitors gaze into the big eyes of resident giraffes from a second-story viewing platform, and if you’re lucky, you may even get a “kiss of life”—the polite term for having your face licked by one of these friendly giants.

Rothschild giraffes once ranged over much of East Africa from South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but today are found only in Kenya and Uganda. Just 120 Rothschild giraffes lived in the wild in 1979, the year the Giraffe Centre’s parent organization, African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, began its work. Thanks to the Giraffe Centre’s breeding and conservation efforts, more than 300 Rothschild giraffes now live in five different areas of Kenya.

side view of the head of a rothschild giraffe with sky in the background

Rothschild giraffes have five ossicones, or bony projections, on their heads. On this individual, you can see the single central ossicone on the forehead, one of the paired antler-like ossicones above the ears, and one of a pair of small bump-like ossicones behind the ears (partially visible). Did you also notice the mud on its neck and the bird resting in its mane? Photo by Bernard Dupont.

What Are Rothschild Giraffes?

Also known as Baringo giraffes, Rothschild giraffes are unique in many ways. Most giraffes have two ossicones, the short, fur-covered, bumpy or antenna-like structures on top of their heads. Usually, the ossicones appear as a single pair between a giraffe’s ears. A few giraffe subspecies have a third, smaller ossicone in the middle of the forehead. But Rothschild giraffes are born with five ossicones!

Rothschild giraffes also have interesting fur coloration. Their spots are rust-colored with dark brown centers that grow larger as they age. Two-tone spots are also found in another giraffe subspecies in Kenya, the Maasai giraffe, but Maasai giraffe spots are brown-on-brown, not rust. Most giraffes have monochrome spots.

Finally, Rothschild giraffes don’t have any spots at all on their lower legs, which almost makes it look like they’re wearing white knee-socks.

visitor feeds rothschild giraffe from a raised deck at giraffe centre
Rothschild Giraffe pattern
Two Rothschild Giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi
close-up image of two giraffes touching at haunches
rothschild giraffe stands next to a low fence at giraffe center
close up of giraffe snout

Clockwise from top left: A visitor feeds a giraffe; close-up of a Rothschild giraffe’s spots, by Maciej; two giraffes on a walk, by Kurt Thomas Hunt; a close-up of a giraffe’s snout; the fence keeps visitors on the trail, but resident Rothschild giraffes can easily step over it; two giraffes touch haunchesthe giraffe equivalent of a hug—by Kurt Thomas Hunt.

What Is a Visit to the Giraffe Centre Like?

For many people, interacting with a resident giraffe is the highlight of a visit to the Giraffe Centre. While most of the center’s giraffes are kept apart from the public as part of the rehabilitation process, there are a few permanent residents who cannot live in the wild due to disability. These naturally gregarious creatures enjoy interacting with visitors and will often eat their food straight out of visitors’ hands!

kenya giraffe center kiss of life

A giraffe enjoys receiving a snack at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. Photo by Maciej.

When you visit the Giraffe Centre, you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about giraffes and the various giraffe subspecies—scientists currently recognize nine giraffe subspecies throughout Africa and three in Kenya. You can attend a scheduled presentation by one of the center’s educators, or simply ask questions of one of the many educators throughout the center.

While at the center, you are likely to meet international travelers, families, and groups of Kenyan schoolchildren. Educating Kenya’s children about wildlife is a core mission of the Giraffe Centre. Field trips to the center help instill a lifelong appreciation for Kenya’s natural resources, and are made possible by donors from throughout the world.

If you’d like to feed a resident giraffe, go to the second story of the visitors’ pavilion. An educator will give you tips and provide you with some giraffe kibble.

Giraffe Center in Kenya - Little Girl getting the Kiss of Life

A young visitor to the Giraffe Centre receives the Kiss of Life. While many giraffes have completely blue tongues, this one’s tongue is pink on top and blue on below. Photo by Jorge Láscar.

Getting the “Kiss of Life”

Enthusiastic giraffes often reward their feeders with a friendly lick—also known as the “kiss of life” because giraffe saliva has natural compounds that fight bacteria and clean wounds. This special property may have evolved thanks to giraffes’ love of nibbling on thorny acacia trees. The special compounds help their tongues heal quickly from any scratches from the thorns.

  • visitors look at three giraffes
  • A rothschild giraffe browses at low shrubs with a warthog standing in the foreground

Visiting and Supporting the Giraffe Centre

You can support the Giraffe Centre from home by sending a donation to its parent organization, African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.

Visiting the Giraffe Centre is also an excellent way to show your support. Ninety percent of entry fees go directly to conservation programs, and purchases from the gift shop and café also support this important work.

While the Giraffe Centre is wonderful on its own, you can extend your adventure with a visit to the elephant rehabilitation program at the nearby Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Together, the two make a fun introduction to Kenyan wildlife as you embark on your safari.

Contact Ujuzi today to plan your safari.