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The Giraffe that walked to Paris

Zarafa was a female Masai giraffe captured as a baby in Ethiopia. As a baby Zarafa was beautiful, gentle and quiet and won the hearts of the villagers who cared for her. When she was old enough the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt made a gift of her to King Charles X of France to cement the relationship between Egypt and France.

Thus began the long journey from her village in Ethiopia to Paris a distance of over 3500 miles. The first part of the journey was almost 2000 miles along the Blue Nile and the Nile to Alexandria. From Alexandria Zarafa crossed the Mediterranean by a specially adapted ship accompanied by her handlers Hassan and Atir who were charged by the Viceroy with her care. She arrived in the port of Marseille on Tuesday 31st October 1826.

Zarafa remained in Marseille until May 1827 and became extremely popular with the local people. On 20th May she started her walk to Paris a distance of 550 miles which she completed in 41 days. All along the route crowds turned out to see this adopted daughter of France. Escorted by the royal cavalry Zarafa was presented to the King at noon on July 9th 1827. Paris adored her. She was a sensation throughout France with streets, squares, inns and taverns named after her.

She lived in le Jardin du Roi (re named le Jardin des Plantes) for 18 years until her death in 1845. Today Zarafa’s mounted remains stand on a staircase in a museum in La Rochelle.