George is a Masai giraffe (also known as a Kilimanjaro giraffe — the tallest land mammal on earth) and he is a well-known fixture at Nini Farm, a rose farm near Lake Naivasha in Kenya, Africa, about 55 miles northwest of Nairobi.
When in 1974 the late Terry Coulson purchased the land that would eventually become Nini Farm, he noticed a very small giraffe as part of a roaming bachelor herd, and his business partner, Mike Higgins, named the giraffe “George.” There was very little development in the area at that time and the only agriculture was alfalfa and vegetables, so new owner Coulson brought in some cattle to graze his land and then returned several months later to check on them. As he approached the farm gate, he saw a cloud of dust and witnessed his cattle at full canter being chased by George (giraffes can reach speeds of 35 mph). It was evident that George had never seen domesticated cattle before and was anxious to investigate them — much to the surprise of the cattle.
Regardless of decades of development since then, including electrical power lines, farm workers, motorbikes and tractors, George continues to comfortably wander around the rose farm, grazing on acacia trees, stepping over fences and ducking under overhead cables, unfazed by all of the human activity surrounding him.
He is still a wild giraffe and measures nearly 19 feet tall, weighing about 4,000 pounds, and has feet the size of dinner plates. Yet he allows people to get up close and personal with him. In fact, I once saw a drunk man talking to George but George didn’t answer him.
Seven other younger giraffes now also accompany George around the farm and they seem to be following in his civilization-tolerant footsteps.
The average life expectancy for a giraffe in the wild is 15 to 20 years, and even under human care they rarely live beyond 27 years, but George has enjoyed over 40 years on Nini Farm. Perhaps he’s discovered that being around roses is the next best thing to the fountain of youth.
Millie Seagon is director of The Flower Hub in Nairobi, Kenya. She can be contacted at millie.