A tall tale
In 1956, five years before Jane Goodall set foot in Africa, a young Canadian zoologist named Anne Innis Dagg, embarked on a solo trip to South Africa to study giraffes. Dianne Tipping-Woods joined her return to South Africa’s Kruger National Park – her first visit in 60 years.
“Look!” she exclaims as we spot a small group browsing on some tender acacia leaves just a few kilometres from the gate. “Aren’t they lovely? Just as I remember them!” Anne loves giraffes now as much as she did then, when she was the very first person to study them – or just about any other large mammal – in the wild.
“Of course, science has moved on so much from then, but at the time, there was no protocol for that kind of research. I know of one study of red deer in Scotland that predates mine. I just thought I’ll see what they do and went in and watched them,” says the zoologist and feminist with a modest shrug as we continue along the H7, in search of more giraffes.
Despite being one of the world’s foremost experts on giraffes and the first person in the world to study them extensively in their natural habitat, she hasn’t been back to South Africa since completing her field work on a farm near Hoedspruit. In the Lowveld to attend a symposium on giraffes, Anne is also the subject of a documentary about her life and research. Along with her academic work and most recently, her 2014 comprehensive review of giraffe research, “looking up everything that had ever been written on giraffe,” Anne wrote about her time in the Lowveld in her book, Pursuing Giraffe, which was published in 2006.
Watching the giant ruminants, Anne’s joy is unfettered. “Look how their necks move with each stride. They don’t do anything fast. They have this grace about them…” In the clasp of her hands and the intensity of her gaze, I catch a glimpse of the girl who saw her first giraffes aged three at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and went on to defy the status quo and the odds to become a pioneering researcher in field of mammalian behavioural science at the age of 23.
When she made the long, solo journey by ship from Canada to South Africa, she didn’t see herself as in any way extraordinary. “I knew what I wanted to do and I did it. It seemed very sensible at the time,” she states. This is despite the fact that she had to hide her gender in her letters to South Africa trying to secure a study site for her passion project!
INFO Anne’s 2014 book Giraffe. Biology, Behaviour and Conservation, draws together the latest giraffe research into one resource on the biology, behaviour and conservation needs of giraffe. Her memoir Pursuing Giraffe is available on Amazon.