Nairobi Unleashed: The Animals of East Africa

Nairobi, Kenya has a lot to offer visitors. It’s a vibrant mecca in the heart of East Africa. An urban core with an impressive menagerie of animals to view up close and with some animals, even touch.

When you think of Kenya you think of safaris, of large wildlife reserves, and lodges complete with mosquito nets. But what’s so impressive about Nairobi, is that you don’t have to leave the city to get this essential East African experience.

Here are my top Nairobi wildlife stops:

Nairobi National Park The Nairobi National Park is just a 20-minute drive from the city-center. That is, if you don’t hit traffic. Which you shouldn’t if you plan to get there at the crack of dawn to maximize the amount of animals you will see. Pro tip: visit the park at dawn or at dusk. That is when the animals are the most active. The cool thing about the park: anyone with a car can drive around, you don’t need a guide.

Elephant Orphanage  Ever wanted to pet a baby elephant, but never had the chance? Well, now you do. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – aka the elephant orphanage – is open only one hour every day to tourists. The elephants are allowed to roam around an area enclosed by only a drawstring, and tourists are able to pet them as they walk by. They seem to enjoy the attention and the affection, before they get sent back to live their normal lives. The elephants found here have been rescued from the wild, their parents almost always victims of poachers; unfortunately, the ivory trade remains alive and well. Once the animals have matured enough, they are brought out to socialize with wild elephants, until they are accepted by a family. After this long process, which takes years, the elephants are eventually released into the wild. I was lucky enough to pet one of the elephants and he felt like tree bark, not soft like I had imagined. After I pet him he walked a little further, attempting his prison break. Tourists wanting pictures captured him gently as they waited for one of the animal handlers to come and gently guide him back to the right side of the ropes.

Giraffe Center/Giraffe Manor Downtown Abbey meets African game reserve. The giraffe center let’s you get up close and personal with giraffes. You ascend a staircase attached to a platform so that you can be eye level with the quirky creatures. Buckets of feed are passed around, and the giraffe simply goes down the line taking food from whomever will feed him. If you are a high-roller – which I am not – you can shell out a few hundred bucks to spend the night in Giraffe Manor, where you can pet giraffes from your own hotel room. I am not kidding. You have to check out the pictures on their website.  

Mamba Village Nairobi Crocodile Farm - While I definitely can’t say that I went to Nairobi thinking I wanted to spend time with crocodiles, I am so glad I did. Mamba Village is a surprising tourist attraction that is part animal experience, part local hangout from what I could tell. First you tour the crocodiles, which are divided into two main pens. One for the larger crocodiles, and one for the hatchlings and infants. I do have to say it is concerning to see so many crocodiles together in close proximity, but my guide assured me it was all OK. In the smaller pen we were allowed to hold the baby crocodiles if we wanted, I declined, but did snap a few pictures of my driver who was happy to hold the little critter. Mamba Village is known for housing another completely different animal species: ostriches. A high fence protects you from the large creatures, but you are able to feed them with the large branches of leaves. You gotta hold on tight, because they sure as hell are strong.

So if you have limited time in Nairobi, have no fear, you can still experience all the amazing wildlife Kenya has to offer and never even leave the city.