Tall Tale Of A Woman Who Stuck Her Neck Out For Giraffes

Anne Innis Dagg doesn't get the same level of acclaim bestowed upon Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey, even though she paved a path of study, years before they commenced their work in the field. Her love of giraffes started at the age of 3, and continues up to her 87th birthday. Today, she can be proud of her life's work with the release of a 2018 documentary film titled The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.


In 1956, at the age of twenty-three, Anne Innis Dagg set off on a solo journey to study giraffes. As the world first "giraffologist," her findings over six decades has become the foundation for many zoologists that followed. Her observational research of giraffes is also recognized as a 'world first' since no other African animal had been scientifically examined in the wild prior to 1956.

Misconceptions of Giraffes

As a scholar of 'giraffology,' Anne found over the years how much misinformation there was about giraffes, particularly on existed on Google. She dispels what she uncovered here:

1. Almost no research on giraffe had been done before this century.
Fact: Well over 200 researchers wrote scientific papers about this animal up to 1999.

2. There is evidence that giraffes existed 50 million years ago.
Fact: Giraffes evolved into a distinct species 9 – 11 million years ago.

3. Giraffes sleep between 10 minutes and two hours a day.
Fact: Giraffe sleep for about four hours a day.

4. Giraffes need only drink every few days because most of their water comes from plants.
Fact: By eating the leaves of certain trees, giraffe need never drink water at all.

5. Giraffes eat 45 kg of leaves each week.
Fact: A large male will eat 34 kg of leaves a day.

6. Giraffe males may smell so bad that you can smell them 250 meters away.
Fact: Many of us researchers have been around thousands of males, but never smelled any odor.

7. Giraffes drink water in huge amounts and store it in their stomach, just as camels store water in their humps.
Fact: This is pure fantasy.

8. Giraffes have seven vertebrae, just like people.
Fact: Both species have seven vertebrae in their necks alone.

9. Giraffes have nine sub-species identified in part by their coat patterns.
Fact: Only two of the subspecies can be identified with certainty by their coat patterns.

10. Giraffes are found in arid and dry savanna zones south of the Sahara wherever trees occur.
Fact: Thousands of such areas no longer have any giraffe because they have been killed by people.

Movie Reveals Female Discrimination

Little was known of giraffes when Dagg first ventured into the Dark Continent. She explored giraffes’ movements, what trees they ate from, and other inherent behaviors. Many however made her job more difficult than it needed to be. She faced discrimination against women who did her kind of work. They couldn't get past the fact that it wasn't proper for a woman who did men's work.

Nonetheless, she always envisioned herself as a person who couldn't be stopped from pursuing her interests. “I was breaking ground without realizing it,” she says in the documentary film.

When she returned to her native Canada to teach and publish her journals, she again faced negative bias at Canadian universities, including being denied tenure and having her credentials questioned when she tried to publish.

Long Haul Rewarded

However, as the years passed, she started to gain notice by winning awards. In 1976, she published her seminal book, "The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior and Ecology" -- which to this day is the only work that explores scientific aspects of giraffes.

The film also catches up with Dagg in recent years, when she was sought out by other “giraffologists” in the scientific community. She has been invited to conferences, and she has learned that she has inspired generations of scientists and giraffe lovers, worldwide.

"More people are learning of Dagg’s achievements thanks to the film," noted director Alison Reid. Canadian universities have been trying to make amends for how she was slighted. One apologized and creating a scholarship in her name and another gave her an honorary doctorate. In late December 2019, Dagg was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.  

How's that for sticking your neck out?


Primary Source: The Woman Who Loved Giraffes




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