The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

The Story of Anne Innis Dagg

In 1956, four years before Jane Goodall so famously went to Africa to study chimpanzees, a fresh-faced 23-year-old Canadian woman went to South Africa to study giraffes.

The concept of studying an animal intensely in its natural habitat was new and Anne Innis Dagg a pioneer, only the second person in the world ever to have done so. But while Goodall has earned her well-deserved place in science and popular culture, Innis Dagg has largely been forgotten.

Poster for the doc on Giraffe expect Innis Dagg, The Woman Who Loves GiraffesDirector Alison Reid deserves high praise for her fascinating documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, combining ecology and social-justice issues while focusing on a woman ahead of her time, whose ambitions were thwarted by institutional sexism. Reid offers a couple of reasons Innis Dagg (the daughter of famed Canadian economist Harold Innis) never enjoyed anything close to the notoriety achieved by Goodall.

First, Reid posits that human beings don’t have the same connection to giraffes as they do to primates or even to elephants. Secondly, Innis Dagg was held back by the miserable small-minded world of Canadian academia of the 1960s and 1970s. She simply couldn’t get tenure (or respect) from her male colleagues, despite being the foremost giraffe expert of her time and being published in the world’s top academic scientific journals. In the end, even the Ontario Human Rights Commission failed to come to her aid, propelling her lifelong activism as a feminist.

A return visit by Innis Dagg to Africa after a decades-long absence – she went on to raise a family in Canada and write books – offers an opportunity to revisit the continent in modern times and unveil a sobering truth, that giraffe populations have been decimated even more extensively than those of primates or elephants. These majestic animals are barely hanging on, and that’s the film’s urgent secondary message.

Innis Dagg is a determined and fascinating woman and Reid brings the past and present together to tell a compelling story.

– Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star


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