Botswana safari plus, day two
02.07.2018 - 02.07.2018
I slept well despite quite a bit of traffic noise outside our room, which overlooked the front entrance of the hotel. We had a leisurely breakfast, choosing from the impressively large buffet - although finding that some items were a little less good than they looked (pastries a little dry, for instance).
We had pre-booked a morning of excursions as part of our itinerary organised through Real Africa. So at 9.00 we were picked up at the hotel by Jackson, who had driven us from the airport the previous evening, and taken to our first destination.
The Giraffe Centre
A year or so ago I saw an episode of the TV programme ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby’ which featured Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor. In an ideal, money no object, world we might well have chosen to stay there, but the next best thing is a visit to the adjacent Giraffe Centre. The centre was founded in 1979 by then then owners of the house that was to become Giraffe Manor. They became aware that the Rothschild Giraffe, which is found only in East Africa, was in grave danger of extinction. They brought two, whom they named Daisy and Marlon, from their grassland home which was threatened with development, to their suburban home here in Nairobi, and set up the Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.) Kenya. Using funds raised through that they moved various groups of giraffes to different safe areas. Meanwhile Daisy and Marlon mated, and the calves formed the basis for a breeding centre here for the Rothschild Giraffe. The aim is to use this centre to educate people about the plight of these beautiful creatures and raise funds for their successful breeding programme on various reserves. There are now over 300 Rothschild Giraffe safe and breeding well in various Kenyan national parks, well up on the 130 that were alive in Kenya in 1979.
Rothschild Giraffes at the Giraffe Centre
At the centre visitors can interact with and feed the giraffes. The raised platform area offers the chance to meet them literally face to face. Staff hand out pellets of food which you can give to the giraffes one at a time, either placing one on a long grey tongue, or holding it on the palm of your hand for the recipient to take - like feeding sugar lumps to a horse.
Chris feeding one of the giraffes
Up close and personal
Look at that tongue!
Enjoying the view, and Chris feeding a younger giraffe
The giraffes clearly enjoy the pellets and are not beyond giving you a head butt if you turn away, so watch out! One of the larger ones, Stacey, did that to me but it was more playful than painful - just a reminder that she was there and wanted my full attention!
For a keen photographer this is also a wonderful opportunity to get closer to a giraffe than you might ever have thought possible.
After 30 minutes or so enjoying the company of these beautiful, elegant creatures we sought out Jackson and left for our second stop of the morning.
David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Not far from the Giraffe Centre is another animal haven, the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This was founded in 1977 by Daphne Sheldrick in honour of the memory of her late husband, the famous naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Sheldrick. While they have a broad mission centred on the conservation and protection of wildlife (for example, anti-poaching schemes and programmes to educate local communities), their most famous undertaking is the Orphans’ Project, rescuing baby elephants who have been injured and/or abandoned by their herd for some reason. They take them in, treat them if necessary, and when they are old enough release them into a controlled wild environment in Tsavo. These elephants then go on to have babies of their own, helping to support the survival of the species in Kenya. To date they have successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and reintegrated the orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo.
Public visiting times are carefully restricted to minimise the impact on the elephants’ routine, which is designed to habituated them as soon as possible for release into the wild. So they spend most of their day out in the park, eating and wandering freely - the keepers simply follow them to ensure their safety and well-being. But paying visitors are one of the main sources of income to fund their care, so a balance needs to be struck. The chosen solution is a one hour slot each day, 11.00 - 12.00, when the elephants are brought together in a roped off area to meet their adoring public. Consequently when we arrived at about 10.30 we found ourselves by no means the first visitors to get here, and by the time the gate was opened at 10.55 there was quite a crowd gathered.
Jackson encouraged us to hurry in, so that we could secure a spot in the front row, and showed us to a position where he said we would get good views of the elephants arriving. We did indeed get great views from this vantage point, resulting in far too many photos of these super-cute animals! I will try to restrain myself and share only a limited number here, but prepare for elephant overkill nevertheless!
Young elephant arriving
Soon after we took our places the first group appeared, splashing eagerly through a small pool towards the waiting crowds. This first group consisted of eight of the youngest currently in the nursery, ranging from less than a year old to about 18 months.
They clearly love these sessions, probably because it also means a drink of milk (baby formula - cow’s milk is apparently too fatty for them and, we were told, milking a wild elephant would be too difficult!) We learned this fact, and many others, from one of the keepers, Edward, who gave a really informative talk as we watched the elephants enjoy their drinks and, it seemed clear, each other’s company.
Milk bottles waiting for the elephants to arrive
Keeper feeding a baby elephant
Enjoying the attention
Edward told us in general terms about the work of the organisation and then talked about each elephant in turn, telling us their name, where they were found and, if known, the circumstances of their mother’s death and the reason they were taken into the centre. All the information about each elephant is also on the centre’s website if you are curious: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphans_history.asp. Some examples include:
Jotto, a male, who came to the centre aged just one month in February 2016. He was discovered fallen down a well by herdsmen who had taken their cattle for water. You can read more about Jotto’s rescue here.
Emoli, another male, who was ten months old when he came to the centre. He had been found collapsed and barely breathing by tourists on a game drive in Kanderi. His full story is here.
Malkia, a female, who was found beside her dying mother when she was just six months old, still nursing and far too young to fend for herself, in March 2016. Read the sad story of the death of her mother here.
There are many more such stories on the website; these are just a few examples and are ones I remember Edward recounting. I have no idea though which elephants are which in my photos!
Some of the younger elephants
As they moved around seeking out the branches of fresh green leaves placed in the enclosure by the keepers, they at times came quite close to the ropes. We were told it was fine to pet them, as long as we didn’t make any sudden noises. I was thrilled when one came close enough for us to do just that, and got a sense of the power of even so young an elephant when he backed into me while changing direction!
Elephant hide in close-up
Eventually the youngest elephants left and a group of ten older ones, aged from nearly two to about three, arrived to take their place.
As well as another huge number of photos I made a short video of this group, enjoying their interactions with each other.
Again Edward introduced to each by name. These ones had started to grow their tusks and he gave an impassioned plea to us all to be sure to avoid buying any ivory products in order to play our small part in stifling the trade that leads to poaching.
Tusks starting to grow
He also explained how we could contribute to the work of the orphanage by adopting an elephant - a great idea. It costs $50 a year and in return the centre keeps ‘foster parents’ regularly updated on the progress of their youngster and the work as a whole through the online Keepers’ Diaries.
While we could have done this on the spot (and some visitors did), we decided it would be better to do so through the website on our return home so as not to keep Jackson waiting and also so we could choose which to adopt at our leisure. If I’ve piqued your interest about the work of the Orphans’ Project and you’d like to support it, all the relevant information is again on the website: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/fostering.asp#whatyouget
Couldn't resist adding two more photos to finish!
A relaxing afternoon
From the elephant orphanage Jackson drove us back to the hotel where we had a buffet lunch (great salad selection, among other things, and nice fruit and cakes).
We then had a relaxing afternoon at and around the hotel. I had planned to swim in the rather nice pool, but although this is heated I decided the rather chilly temperatures would make exiting the water less than pleasant. Nairobi lies at 5,250 feet above sea level which means that despite being close to the equator it has what is defined as a ‘subtropical highland climate’, with temperatures averaging around 20 degrees over the course of the year, and July the coolest month.
Sign by the entrance
Mid-afternoon we decided to stretch our legs with a walk in this park, just across the road from the hotel. It was a good chance to get a look at, and some photos of, a different side to Nairobi. I suspect few tourists venture here - certainly we saw none - but Jackson had assured us it was safe, although we decided against trying to take any candid people shots in case we aggravated anyone.
Instead we first visited the memorial to the ‘victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial period’, on the north side of the park. A sculpture here represents a young woman, a Mau Mau sympathiser, passing food to one of the freedom fighters in order to give her support to the cause. The sign explains that it was the custom among the Mau Mau never to look at each other during such interactions, so that they couldn’t later identify and thus give away any of their fellow fighters, even if tortured. Another sign carries messages of reconciliation from Great Britain and the Mau Mau veterans.
Memorial to the ‘victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial period’
The Mau Mau Uprising was a revolt against British colonial rule in Kenya. The Mau Mau (or Kenya Land and Freedom Army as they preferred to be called) represented several tribes and the uprising in the 1950s was the culmination of years of revolt against the occupation of their country.
It was interesting by the way, as Star Trek fans, to learn that ‘Uhuru’ is the Swahili word for ‘Freedom’ – I’m sure it can be no coincidence that Gene Roddenberry chose this name for one of his main characters, and one who was to become a significant role model for black women aspiring to an acting career (and many others, no doubt).
From here we headed to the lake at the centre of the park. In the trees surrounding this many marabou storks were perched. Jackson had told us that they, along with the vultures, came to feed on the city’s garbage.
Lake in Uhuru Park
Nearby was a small, rather rundown children’s play area with a few roundabouts and other rides. They might have made good photos but we didn’t want to upset anyone by trying to take some.
Instead we walked back to the main road, Kenyatta Avenue, where I was keen to get some photos of the colourfully painted buses I had noted during our drives in the morning.
Buses on Kenyatta Avenue
In the park, and sign on Kenyatta Avenue
Nairobi Serena doorman, Thomas
We were welcomed back to the hotel by the friendly doorman Thomas, who was happy to pose for photos and also to explain some commotion we had encountered on our walk. Apparently motorbike riders have been banned from the city centre and are protesting the ban by riding through neighbouring streets setting off tear gas canisters. I’m glad we didn’t get too close!
A quiet evening
Knowing that we would have a very early start tomorrow (pick-up for our flight at 5.00 AM!) we decided on a prompt dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Our full board deal allowed us to select anything from the menu, but we had to pay for the half litre carafe of South African Chenin Blanc which we chose to accompany our meal.
I enjoyed my starter of tomato and mozzarella and Chris had a nice carpaccio. My main course, grilled tilapia, was very nicely cooked, as were the accompanying vegetables, but Chris found his club sandwich a little uninspiring. But the wine was good and we had a pleasant meal. Then it was back to the room to relax and watch a bit of the football before an early night.