By Lexi Rafael
Unless you’re seriously into giraffes, you’ve probably never heard of Anne Innis Dagg. Referred to by some as “the Jane Goodall of giraffes,” Anne was a true pioneer and the subject of the documentary, The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.
In the mid-1950s, at just 23 years old, Anne took off for South Africa to study these animals in the wild, making her the first in the field to do so. In fact, save for a red deer study in Scotland, she was the first person to study the behavior of a wild animal anywhere in the world.
The dusty road to Anne’s dreams wasn’t easy. For starters, she was a young woman with her sights set on traveling abroad, alone, at a time when this simply wasn’t done. She wrote to wildlife departments in each of the countries that she knew had giraffes, but all 13 responded that they had no place for her. Wondering if she was being turned down because she was a woman, she started signing her initials instead of her name. Finally, Mr. Mathew, a manager of a ranch near Kruger National Park in South Africa, invited her to stay in his single men’s dorm. Anne explained she was a woman and Mr. Mathew initially responded that it wouldn’t do for him to have a “strange young woman” in his home without a chaperone. Ultimately, he allowed her to come.
When asked if the negative reactions others had about her being a lone woman ever stopped her, Anne responded, “Oh no, because I was thinking I was a person.” When confronted by the racist beliefs of other white people at the time, Anne’s response was essentially the same. She found the racist behavior “ridiculous,” and refused to stop engaging with others in a real, genuine way. She spent hours speaking and laughing with a local girl about the different names they each had for things, and when in a position to offer locals a ride, she invited them to sit in the front of her car with her so that they could talk together.
Anne’s drive couldn’t be slowed, not even by romance. Although she’d fallen in love with a man named Ian back before her year-long trip to Africa, when he suggested she marry him instead of taking her trip, she simply explained that she would be going, and if he still wanted to marry her in a year, well then they’d be married (and indeed, they were).
After returning home, Anne went on to teach in a university. She found she loved working with students and sharing her passion for giraffe, but when it came time for review, she was denied tenure. At that point in her career she’d had fifteen to twenty papers published in some of the world’s leading journals and yet her work was deemed, by a room of men in academia, to be unsatisfactory. For Anne, this was a crushing blow. It seemed everything she’d worked for had been for nothing.
It would have been easy to give up, but instead, Anne wrote, not only of her experience with giraffe but about her newfound passion for women’s rights. She formed committees with other women and spent about 20 years fighting to raise awareness about the sexism prevalent in Canadian universities.
In watching The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, one feels grateful for director Alison Reid’s determination to share Anne’s story. It’s inspiring and relevant to anyone who has ever had their dreams stepped on by the status quo.
Catch the film today, Wednesday, May 1, at 3:30 p.m. at The Triangle and learn more about all the movies playing during the Newport Beach Film Festival here.