Review: ‘The Woman Who Loves Giraffes’

This documentary about groundbreaking giraffe researcher Anne Innis Dagg focuses more on her life than the animals she loves — and animal lovers should be advised that the film contains several graphic scenes of slaughtered and dead giraffes.

In 1956, Dagg traveled from Canada to South Africa to study giraffes — four years before Jane Goodall started her landmark studies on chimpanzees.

Her obsession with the species started when she was 3 and her mother took her to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. “I was very small and they were very tall and I just thought, ‘These are magnificent. I love these animals,'” she recalls in the film.

As a girl, she wanted a book about giraffes, but there wasn’t one. Even when she got to college, she found there wasn’t much known about them. So — after traveling to South Africa at age 23 to study the animals she loved, she wrote the definitive book on giraffes, The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior, and Ecology, in 1976.

Only about a quarter of the film is about her work with giraffes at Fleur de Lys in South Africa, where she took notes and filmed the graceful animals in their natural habitat.

Despite her groundbreaking studies and status as the world’s expert on giraffes, she was denied tenure at several universities. She eventually gave up her work with giraffes until contemporary scientists and zookeepers reached out to her, and she realized how many people she had influenced.

While there is wonderful vintage footage of giraffes, Dagg also documented the time when a big bull giraffe was shot by a game warden. It was then skinned and butchered for meat.

“The most upsetting part was when they cut up the neck into lengths, rather in the manner of cordwood,” she wrote in her notes as we see footage of the event.

Knowing she was studying the animals, they gave her the heart, stomach and intestines: She hung up the intestines so she could measure them.

When she revisits South Africa, we see more images of giraffes that have been killed for food. Crowds gather when a female deer is found killed on the road — and the camera lingers on an image of her dead fetus.

While there is a renewed surge in giraffe research and preservation, the sad statistics are that the population at Fleur de Lys has plunged from 28,000 in 1998 to about 5000.

As a younger researcher says, “That’s greater than an 80 percent decline in 15 years. That’s a population that’s plummeting toward extinction.”

Dagg continues to work with giraffe researchers and issued an updated version of her book based on new information about the giraffes’ social networks.

The film ends with message: “You can make a difference” and that Anne supports the Reticulated Giraffe Project, Save the Giraffes, and Wild Nature Institute 

“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes” is now playing in limited release: See when it’s playing near you.

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