In 1956, Canadian Anne Innis Dagg set sail for Africa, pursuing her dream to study giraffe. One of the first zoologists to study African mammals in Africa, Dagg broke many stereotypes undertaking behavioural research – years before Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey began their better-known studies.
For Pursuing Giraffe: a 1950s Adventure, Dagg has compiled her journals and letters home to create a moving story of woman’s pursuit of knowledge in a new field. As Dagg shares, women did not normally enter science programs at University, were still expected to wear skirts to school and did not have the opportunities to apply for field research like their male classmates. It is from these limitations that Dagg struck out into new territory, traveling alone when she was only twenty-three years old and finding a location in South Africa willing to host a female researcher.
Readers may be tempted, with 21st century viewpoints, to denigrate Dagg for her apparent naïveté in journeying to Africa with no knowledge of the political climate. However, it is precisely this unbiased naïveté that presents a compelling picture of the world Dagg entered. Assuredly, it is only a narrow window into a complex situation but an important one. With a scientist’s eye, Dagg chronicles every reaction, including her own biases, her idealized notions of Africans, and her utter bewilderment at the political mire she has encountered. This honest reporting allows readers to arrive at their own conclusions.
Dagg set out with enough money for approximately a year in Africa and a host who may have turned her away after discovering she was a woman. Her research included hours of footage on the animals grazing and male giraffe sparing, studies of the plants preferred by the giraffe in the dry and wet seasons and her groundbreaking discovery of homosexual behaviour among male giraffes.
Her daring nature coloured her pursuit of the giraffe, and in the end, she managed to study the animals in both Southern and Eastern Africa, leaving just as the Group Areas Act goes into effect and apartheid is implemented as we understand it today. Pursuing Giraffe: a 1950s Adventure is as much a story about women’s roles in the world as it is about scientific research and personal growth.
Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Publication Date: January 2006
Part of the Life Writing Series
tags: books book reviews Pursuing Giraffe: a 1950s Adventure Anne Innis Dagg Giraffe research