All their friends have noted that Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville (PEOPLE, June 17, 1974) do prattle on about their two offspring. Jock, 44, reveals that they are very fond of oatmeal cookies and waffles. Betty, a chic 49, tells how she worried over a case of pinkeye. “They are running our lives,” she says.
Typical new parents? Not quite. The Leslie-Melvilles’ “kids” are two Rothschild giraffes who live in their backyard in a Nairobi suburb. Daisy is 2 years old, stands 13 feet high and weighs half a ton; Marlon is 11 feet, 18 months and 750 pounds.
The Leslie-Melvilles are currently on a 30-city lecture tour in the U.S. to promote their latest book, Raising Daisy Rothschild. On a recent stopover in New York, where they maintain an apartment, Jock and Betty realized, “We’ve become giraffe junkies. We go out to dinner and friends say, ‘Okay, you’ve got six minutes of giraffe talk. That’s the limit.’ ”
The Rothschild giraffe, named after a prominent British zoologist and financier, is an endangered African subspecies. There are only 130 left on the continent, and these face extinction from crossbreeding with other kinds of giraffes and from poaching natives trying to protect their crops. The Kenyan government has relocated 23 of them, but the others are still in peril.
The Leslie-Melvilles have launched a campaign to rescue the Rothschilds called “Save a Wild Child—Adopt a Baby Giraffe.” Anthropologist Margaret Mead (“Daisy sucked her thumb,” Betty recalls) and actor Richard Chamberlain are among those who have contributed and now have baby giraffes named for them.
The couple have found 130 acres of virgin forest on the edge of Nairobi near their own $100,000 home where they want to establish a sanctuary for the giraffes and other endangered species. They have already put $75,000 down, but the land will be turned into a housing development unless an additional $675,000 can be raised. A giraffe preserve would not only spare the forest and prevent crossbreeding, it would also provide Kenyans with a game park inside the city limits. Jock, who grew up on a Kenya farm, claims that 80 percent of all Africans have never set foot inside the game parks that are so popular with European and American tourists.
During the eight months each year that Jock and Betty spend in Nairobi, they find themselves “giraffe sitting” much of the time. (Betty’s three grown children from two previous marriages also help out.) Daisy and Marlon are temperamental pets. Thunderstorms terrify them, and if the Leslie-Melvilles go out and leave them alone, the two giraffes may sulk for hours. Normally the animals are gentle, affectionate, curious—and, says Betty, “they have such lovely long eyelashes.” But when they playfully kick up their heels, she and Jock have to be careful. “Giraffes will only kill when cornered,” he points out, “but one kick will do it.”