Betty Leslie-Melville

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Betty Leslie-Melville (died in 2005)

"The stately Rothschild's giraffe, at almost 20ft the tallest of the species and formerly endangered but now thriving, is the legacy that the Maryland-born Betty Leslie-Melville, who has died aged 78, left to the world. The "giraffe lady" spent decades in Kenya devoted to the animals. At the outset of her interest in the early 1970s, there were only about 120, but they now number up to 400 in Kenya and 500 altogether, due to the efforts of her and her third husband Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish earl, who died in 1984.

"One of nine sub-species, Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi is named after the British zoologist Walter Rothschild. Unlike other giraffes it has five horns instead of two, its coat markings are tidier, and it is the only kind with white legs from the knees down...

"In 1964 she married Jock and later they bought Giraffe Manor, an English-style mansion on 120 acres built in 1932 for the toffee tycoon, Sir David Duncan. Although it was only eight miles from Nairobi, the presence of giraffes, who would poke their heads through the couple's first-floor bedroom window, immediately intrigued them. Then they discovered that the animals, already threatened by hunters and lost habitat, came from nearby farmland scheduled for redevelopment. Betty persuaded her husband to allow the animals to live on their estate.

"In 1972 the couple created the Fund for Endangered African Wildlife in Maryland and in Kenya, and began adopting giraffes, starting with a female called Daisy and then five youngsters...

"She is survived by her fourth husband, vice Admiral George Peabody Steele, her son from her first marriage to Lloyd Anderson and a daughter from her second. Another son by her second husband died last year." [1]

"Although she had long been interested in Africa, she had had no thought of venturing there until a friend moved to Kenya. "I fell in love with the country," she said of her first visit in 1958. "It's like you're in a Technicolor world."

"She persuaded her second husband, Dancy Bruce, to move there with her and her young children, and once settled in Kenya, Bruce ran a safari company. But their marriage broke up after Betty met Jock Leslie-Melville, the grandson of an earl, whom she went on to marry in 1964. Their circle of well-heeled European friends in Kenya rallied round when the Leslie-Melvilles sought funding for their bid to safeguard the future of Rothschild's giraffe. Extra publicity came with a series of books that the Leslie-Melvilles jointly produced." [2]

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  1. Betty Leslie-Melville, guardianobituaries, accessed June 18, 2010.
  2. Betty Leslie-Melville,, accessed June 18, 2010.