Out of Africa Comes a B&B That’s Also Home to Resident Rothschild Giraffes

By Katey Pfeil

In 1974, Baltimore-born Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband Jock, (the grandson of a Scottish earl) purchased a property in Kenya. Nestled at the base of the majestic Ngong Hills, the couple soon came to learn that the only remaining Rothschild Giraffes in Kenya were in danger: the Kenyan government was killing the animals, as land they lived on had changed ownership and was being subdivided.

Since their property was already home to three wild giraffes, the Leslie-Melville’s decided to rescue several other giraffes that were also on the brink of being slaughtered. What began as a simple love for the endangered animals turned out to be one of the most successful Rothschild Giraffe breeding programs in the world. Due to her lifelong conservation efforts, Betty became known as "The Giraffe Lady," and in 1979 she became the subject of the film The Last Giraffe, starring Susan Anspach.

Following her husband’s death, Betty decided to open her home to paying guests, dedicating (as is still the case) 100% of profits towards the charitable efforts of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), an animal-conservation group she and her husband founded.  

giraffemanorFeatured as one of Travel & Leisure’s “Most Unusual Hotels,” Giraffe Manor is located in the suburbs of Nairobi, and is situated on a 140-acre facility owned by the Giraffe Center Sanctuary and Reserve. It’s become famous for its unusual hosts—an amiable gang of Rothschild Giraffes who keep guests entertained by peeking their heads into balconies and open bedroom windows, begging for a pat on the head or a mid-day snack.

Originally built in 1932 by Sir David Duncan (a member of the Mackintosh family, famous for Mackintosh Toffee), and modeled after an Irish hunting lodge, Giraffe Manor is nothing short of spectacular. Ivy vines hug the colonial bricks that shelter guests in this spacious and comfortable place (excluding the months of April and May). Danish author Karen Blixen (of Out of Africa fame) lived on the property from 1917-1930, in what is now the Karen Blixen museum. The hotel (currently ranked one of the top Nairobi hotels on TripAdvisor) is also furnished with some of the original furniture that once adorned Blixen’s residence.

Guests are encouraged to interact with, and take pictures of the Rothschild Giraffes (a species native only to the grasslands of East Africa), who casually wander around the giraffemanor1property mingling with onlookers. Besides the dozen or so giraffes that live at Giraffe Manor at any given time, a menagerie of other animals including warthogs, bushbuck, dik dik (a smaller breed of antelope) and more than 175 species of birds inhabit the grounds.

The Giraffe Center, on which the hotel’s property is located, was set up by AFEW as a breeding facility for the endangered Rothschild Giraffe (of which there are only a few hundred in the wild), and has now evolved to operate conservation and educational programs for Kenyan school children. The Center contains an expansive nature trail, encouraging visitors to meander through the neighboring Ololua and Ngong forests. The program has had huge success, resulting in the introduction of several breeding pairs of Rothschild Giraffe into Kenyan national parks.

Like most successful conservation efforts, it all began with the goal of helping animals in the wild that deserved to be respected and cherished.

Rates at Giraffe Manor begin at $300 a night inclusive, providing all breakfasts, lunches and dinners, house wines, laundry service, wireless internet and access into the AFEW Giraffe Center. All meals are organic, with vegetables grown on the premise.

For more information and to inquire about reservations, please visit Giraffe Manor’s official website at or email

Photo credits: Courtesy of The Safari Collection

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