A giraffe, abandoned as a calf and rescued by wildlife officials four years ago, now lives with staff at Meru National Park, a protected wilderness of 87,000 hectares in eastern Kenya. Duse sleeps next to staff quarters at night and spends her days roaming the nearby bush, often with her long-term partner. Although Duse is keen to make new friends with visitors, she is a loner among her fellow giraffes. Cathy Majtenyi visited Meru National Park and files this report for VOA.
She sniffs strangers. It's her way of making friends.
She loves to be petted and considers the staff of Kenya Wildlife Service her family.
Meet Duse, Meru National Park's most famous resident.
Duse lives in the park's administrative compound. She sleeps next to the staff's quarters.
Robert Njue is senior warden of Meru's Conservation Area. "She is social to the staff because on a daily basis she has learned to identify and recognize them," Njue said. "She has learned to also recognize the vehicles - very unique. Whenever she gets to see somebody she knows, she slowly strides towards the person and she starts smelling (them). It is like she is trying to confirm, is this the same person?"
Duse moved here four years ago as a baby after wildlife officials found her abandoned in the bush outside the park.
John Mwiti takes care of Duse. "If I am walking away, Duse will follow me, and people get surprised because they have never seen this kind of thing," Mwiti said. "She follows me because she has gotten used to me. I have been feeding her water and milk."
Duse has adopted un-giraffe like behavior. Although she is friendly to humans, she doesn't mingle with giraffes. They usually travel in herds of up to 20.
Duse prefers to spend her day at the park's nearby airstrip or at its tourist hotel.
Senior warden Njue says Duse has limited experience in normal giraffe behavior.
She gave birth in July, but abandoned her baby in the bush, just as she was abandoned.
"Duse had never lived with any family," Njue explained. "The family is the staff of KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) and the park headquarters. She has not seen a giraffe giving birth. Probably that is why she ran away."
The father of Duse's baby, called "the boyfriend" by the park staff, was also brought to the park from another location.
Every day, he waits outside the compound for Duse, so they can spend the day together.
Njue says their bond is not usual for giraffes, "Although he is not the most strong, he is very aggressive protecting Duse," he said. "When you come close to Duse, you see him coming closer, watching what you are doing."
It was here, at Meru National Park, that George and Joy Adamson of the Born Free movie rehabilitated Elsa the lioness.
The park teems with wildlife including elephants, water buffalos, birds and ostriches.
Njue hopes Duse will draw more visitors. He says the park is the best in the world.