The winner of the 2016 Lane Anderson award for excellence in Canadian science writing for youth is Anne Innis Dagg, for her book 5 Giraffes, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. This is her account of how she came to study giraffe. -CE
By Anne Innis Dagg
When I was three years old, my mother took me on a trip from our home in Toronto to Chicago where we visited the Brookfield Zoo. I was mesmerized by the giraffe! So much so that I decided I would study them in Africa when I grew up.
At the University of Toronto, I enrolled in biology and for four years learned a great deal, but nothing about my favourite animal. When I graduated I wrote to as many sources as I could think of in Africa to see if anyone would like a young woman to come and watch giraffe near them, but with no success. I then decided to do a year of graduate work and try again the following year, in 1956.
This time I was successful! I was able to live on the grounds of a huge cattle farm that had 95 giraffe on its property, coming and going as they wished. By watching them from the tiny second-hand car I had bought, I was able to document what they did each day. The extensive scientific paper I wrote was apparently the first to be published about the behaviour of any wild animal living in Africa.
For my book 5 Giraffes, of course, I had to choose individuals from a variety of different backgrounds and places. I belong to a group of scientists who are devoted to this animal, which is in danger of extinction, so this was easily done. They gave me lots of possibilities, from which I chose the five – three of the giraffes lived in zoos, one is a dominant male in Kenya, and the last is a female of another race, also in Kenya, who grieved for days when her youngster died.
Writing 5 Giraffes was a wonderful chance for me to recall the amazing way in which giraffe have evolved to live in Africa.
Photos courtesy of Anne Innis Dagg.