Birding At Giraffe Centre

Before this year, it had been long since I visited the Giraffe Centre in Karen, Nairobi. Too long- almost 20 years actually. So when it was announced during a bird walk in June that we’d be going there, I was elated. One thing about Nairobi is that there’s so much to see. But sadly most residents don’t explore these places. In this post I give you a chance to virtually experience the Centre.

Warthogs at Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Sights that awaited us at the Centre.

Giraffe Centre is a creation ofΒ The Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.).Β Β The late Jock Leslie-Melville and his wife Betty Leslie-Melville Centre to save the Rothschild Giraffe. It’s the only giraffe sanctuary in the world within a capital city and is very popular with school children, as they get to encounter these beautiful creatures up close.

Giraffe at Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Up close with gentle giants.

Apart from the giraffes, the Centre is also home to various bird species in its forest. And so we left the Museum that morning anticipating an exciting birding session. But the excitement was cut short by mad traffic jam on Uhuru Highway. We took almost 40 minutes just sitting there. By the time we arrived it was almost 10 am.

Cactus flower.
Beauty among thorns- cactus flower.

The disappointment of taking long on the road was immediately lifted by the sight of a squirrel in a tree above us. Warthogs lay on the tarmac road, warming their bellies in the sun. They seemed unbothered by the people and motorcycles passing close to them. The morning was off to a good start. We decided to have the bird walk first then finish off with the giraffes.

Warthogs basking on a road.
Wild pigs basking.


We crossed the road, entered the forest and immediately the atmosphere changed. It was suddenly quiet. We even found ourselves whispering. It was incredible! Hard to believe we were still in the city. A Grey Apalis almost escaped our attention, being cleverly camouflaged in the branches. It’s an uncommon bird to see so we were pleasantly surprised.

Birders walking in a forest.
Going deep into the forest…

Another interesting sighting was a Tree Hyrax moving slowly in the canopy. These guys are related to elephants, despite looking more like rodents. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but it seems the ones in Nairobi have adapted differently. We walked downhill towards Gogo River. At the time it was the size of a little stream, but a few weeks earlier it had flooded due to the March- May heavy rains. The water was refreshingly cool.

Tourists walking across Gogo River.
Walking across Gogo River.

As usual with forest birding the birds are hard to see. You have to be well versed with their calls (sounds) to identify the ones you hear. On this morning a pair of Rupell’s Robin-chats called incessantly from the bushes. Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls weren’t left behind, and neither were Cabanis’ Greenbul and Hartlaub’s Turaco. Despite not seeing the birds, walking through the forest was refreshing. It was cool and the air fresh.

Flowers among rocks.
Flowers among the rocks.

We came to the end of the forest and again the contrast was incredible. The sun was bright and hot! Here we managed to see some birds like Black Saw-wing, Lesser Striped Swallow and Common Fiscal. Birds are more visible at the forest edge than within the forest. Flowers bloomed among the rocks. In the distance we could see Ngong Hills.

Ngong Hills, Kenya.
Ngong Hills in the distance.

Continuing with the walk, we came across little ‘bathtubs’ raised from the ground. Our guide Stanley informed us they’re actually drinking troughs for the giraffes. They are raised to discourage warthogs from swimming in them. πŸ™‚ By this time the sun was blazing. We came to a rocky area whose steep decline reminded me of the road to Magadi. Then the scariest thing happened.

Forest at Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Walking downhill a few moments before the accident.

One of us slipped and fell face first onto the rocks. My jaw literally dropped. It was a serious fall since the rocks were stained with blood. Whoa! Such a sad incident after having a good morning. We helped her up and walked cautiously down the hill, then up on the other side. A few minutes later we got to the main gate again. It was time to see the giraffes!

Birders at the forest edge.
Birders at the forest edge.

One advantage of these bird walks is we get free access to amazing places. Like in this case we didn’t pay entrance fee. πŸ™‚ My excitement immediately peaked. Giraffes are my favourite animals- beautiful, graceful and gentle. They must have the most awesome view, seeing the world from up there. We scooped some pellets and fed them. Everyone present was thrilled, taking photos and videos to document the beautiful moment.

Giraffe feeding time at Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Such beautiful creatures.Β (Photo by Cedric)

I only got to interact with Betty and Kelly since we had to leave in a few minutes. Betty was quite sassy and walked away from us at some point. All the giraffes at the Centre are named. Despite the earlier accident, interacting with these creatures was a perfect end to the walk. If looking for a place to spend your day in Nairobi, try out the Giraffe Centre. You won’t regret!

Feeding giraffes at Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Hello Kelly! (Photo by Cedric)

4 thoughts on “Birding At Giraffe Centre

  1. Having worked there, I must say I am biased and will always find Giraffe Center exciting. 20 years you say?! You definitely needed to go there. Some of my favourite birds at GC are the hartlaub’s turaco and yellow-whiskered greenbul and two others I’m embarrassed to say I cannot remember. Once I do will tell you. i still go there regularly. Been there thrice in the last two months. Awesome place!


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