Published: 13:42, 10 May 2019
| Updated: 17:35, 10 May 2019
The opening date for a new hotel where guests can get up-close-and-personal with giraffes has been pushed back to next year.
But bosses told KentOnline this week that the highly anticipated venue is now scheduled to open in late 2020.
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When the accommodation opens, it will become the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
The new hotel will see French House - an original Wealden hall house - be fully refurbished so the gentle giants can poke their heads through windows and interact with guests.
The building is Grade II listed and dates back to the 15th and 16th century.
Originally part of the Port Lympne estate, the manor house was extended by Philip Sassoon during renovation work carried out in 1920. Sassoon was MP for Hythe and Private Secretary to Field Marshal Haig during the First World War. He used the estate as a weekend retreat, entertaining guests including Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia and Charlie Chaplin.
Last year, restoration work to create the 10-bedroom hotel began, plus six more luxury cabins, with views of the reserve grounds, run by the Aspinall Foundation.
A Wealden hall house is a type of medieval timber-framed hall house, traditionally built in the south east of England and typically built for a yeoman.
Within the first few weeks of the original announcement, more than 1,000 people registered their interest to stay at the new guest house.
A similar animal experience in Nairobi is renowned for attracting hundreds of tourists each year.
It is intended that the giraffe will wander along pathways and trails through the grounds, as well as the resident herd being able to peer into a lofty drawing room, or wander up to the bedroom windows, where guests can feed them.
The interiors will be designed by Victoria Aspinall, retaining many of the original features. The gardens are also set to undergo improvements, to include a route for the giraffe to wander the grounds and a ‘cabana style retreat’, where drinks will be served.
As well as short breaks, it will also serve as a venue for weddings and private parties.
The accommodation will be one of several others dotted around the site in Lympne, near Hythe, but differs from the pre-existing Giraffe Lodge, which consists of safari tents. Giraffe Hall will offer accommodation all year round.
Port Lympne was approached for further comment on the rescheduled opening date and name change.
Giraffes are a popular species at the wildlife park, and no stranger to KentOnline headlines.
But the young male, born to adult giraffe mother Lehana, sadly died just six weeks later following health complications.
The Aspinall Foundation, which also run Howletts near Canterbury, had been encouraging supporters to suggest African names for the calves as part of a fundraising drive and decided to name him Jabari, which means ‘brave’.
The female, born to mum Lunar, was named Kianga, meaning sunshine or sunbeam.
The mothers were simultaneously made pregnant by male giraffe Valentino as part of the centre’s breeding programme for endangered Rothschild giraffes and the park set up a 'Giraffe Cam' in May for Youtube viewers around the world to follow their progress in labour.
Lunar was expected to give birth first in June and was already mum to two-year-old female Mwezi - the first giraffe to be born at the reserve near Hythe in eight years when she arrived in 2016.
Lehana was due to give birth shortly after Lunar, but beat her by a week with the calf that passed away. Jabari was born on June 7 at around 5.20pm and died on July 17. He had been unwell for several days, and while having treatment, an accident occurred causing him to break his leg. He was put to sleep due to it being a ‘complicated fracture’.
Lehana has another calf called Bakora - a male - born in December 2016.
The mothers arrived at Port Lympne Reserve in 2013 as part of the programme. Rothschild giraffe numbers are dwindling in the wild, where they are endangered species with fewer than 2500 mature Rothschild giraffes left.
They are usually found in Uganda and Kenya and spend up to 75% of the day eating a diet of leaves and bark, with their favourite being acacia trees.
Young giraffes are usually up and about only half an hour after being born.
The calves had been sharing their home with eight other giraffes who live on nearly 100 acres in Port Lympne’s African Experience while spending their nights in a heated indoor enclosure.
More by this authorMolly Mileham-Chappell