Today is International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to show respect, appreciation and love for all women and to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide. It’s the perfect day to introduce to you an incredible, accomplished fellow Canadian, who until recently has gone largely unknown. Anne Dagg, a pioneer in wildlife research was the first to observe giraffes in the wild and perhaps the first woman to research any large mammal species. Before Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey began their research on chimpanzees and gorillas, Anne courageously set out on her own, halfway around the world, to South Africa, to follow a life-long dream she had since visiting a zoo as a young child.

For years her work was not widely recognized outside of the scientific community of those studying giraffes, until a documentary, The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, written and directed by Toronto filmmaker Alison Reid, debuted. It was that documentary that captivated me, which lead me to an opportunity to meet Anne and learn about her intriguing adventure and incredible accomplishments.

She began to tell her story to me with excitement and enthusiasm as if it were just yesterday. While I won’t get into all the details of her fascinating story (you really should watch the documentary, available on Crave and iTunes. Click here for link. ) I will share with you a few highlights from our conversation.

After university she wrote to several organizations in Africa to secure a place to begin her research.  Many rejected her offer, but one man, Mr. Matthews thought her ideas were worthy and decided to give her a chance.  With a place to stay, she told her Mom about her plan.  Surprisingly, she was onboard and encouraged Anne to follow her dream.  So, on her own, in her early 20’s, her journey began.  The most challenging thing she encountered was “just getting there alive”, Anne would say.  When she arrived in South Africa (early Apartheid) she had to drive, on her own, to the house she would live during her stay.  Her car broke down several kilometers before she reached her destination.  Darkness had set in by then and she was as frightened to stay in the car as she was to walk in the dark.  She was in the middle of the wilderness, where wildlife roam freely and often lions hunt at night.  Bravely she decided to walk, all the while fearing she would step on a mamba (venomous snake).  Relieved to finally make it, Mr. Matthews welcomed her and made her feel right at home.

Her first sighting of giraffes in the wild is still today one of her most memorable highlights.  She would soon realize that she would need to stay in one place to observe these beautiful creatures, which she did successfully with pen and paper in hand.  Her meticulous notes are still being used today in the archives at the University of Waterloo.

After completing her research, she married Ian Dagg and finished her PhD at the University of Waterloo, writing her thesis on how giraffes walk and run in comparison to other animals.   In the 70’s she was chosen as one of the top women biologists in Canada, yet despite this achievement and numerous published articles, she was denied tenure at the University of Guelph.  Was she ahead of her time or denied because she was a woman?  The rejection frustrated her because she thought she was qualified and deserving of tenure.  She continued to publish articles, write books and teach while raising four children together with her husband.

Throughout her life, Anne’s love of giraffes has remained strong.  She continues to advocate on their behalf.  Until December of 2016 the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorized giraffes as Of Least Concern (LC), despite the fact their numbers had decreased by approximately 40% in the last few decades.  With Anne’s involvement, as a member of a specialist committee, giraffes are now categorized as Vulnerable to Extinction (VU) – and several subspecies are listed as Critically Endangered –  which means they will now be closely monitored and receive more public awareness and conservation efforts.

Since I met with Anne, I’m so very pleased to say that she has been appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, so very well-deserved.

It was an absolutely pleasure to be able to sit with Anne and hear her story.  I encourage all of you to learn more about this amazing, incredible, inspiring woman.  You’ll really be glad you did.

To learn more about Anne Dagg, visit or or search online for the many accolades and articles written about her.

Photo credits: 

Happy International Women’s Day

Bonnie Hinschberger