Anne Innis Dagg, renowned zoologist and feminist, remembered as ‘the woman who loves giraffes’

April 8, 2024 by U of T News

Anne Innis Dagg, a renowned zoologist and feminist, is being remembered for her passion for her long-necked research subjects.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based scientist, conservationist and feminist whose story was chronicled in the award-winning documentary, The Woman Who Loves Giraffes died Monday after a brief illness, CBC reports. She was 91.

Innis Dagg was celebrated for her foundational contributions to giraffe science and advocacy for women in academia — and she leaves behind a deep and decorated legacy at the University of Toronto.

Even before she enrolled to study biology at U of T, her family name was a familiar presence around campus. Her mother, Mary Quayle Innis, served as the dean of women at University College, and her father, Harold Innis, was an esteemed professor of political economy and the namesake of Innis College.

Anne Innis Dagg holding a stuffed giraffe.

Innis Dagg won a gold medal — and a $500 prize — for graduating first in her class in 1955. After staying at U of T for another year to earn a master’s degree in genetics, she used the prize money to underwrite her first trip abroad to study wild giraffes. 

In an interview ahead of her Snider Lecture at U of T Mississauga last year, Innis Dagg recalled the skepticism about her solo 1956 trip to South Africa, where she became the first Western scientist to observe the world’s tallest mammal in its natural habitat.

“I just wanted to see them and be near my beloved giraffe,” she said. “I didn’t really think about it being unusual.”

After receiving a PhD in animal behaviour from University of Waterloo, Innis Dagg was hired as an assistant professor in the University of Guelph’s zoology department in 1968. 

But even as she gained recognition for her scholarship, Innis Dagg struggled to secure a tenured faculty position. “My career was sidetracked by the institutional sexism that was rampant in academia,” said Innis Dagg.  

Despite career setbacks, Innis Dagg went on to publish more than 60 scientific articles and more than 20 books — and, alongside naturalist Bristol Foster, co-wrote what is considered to be a seminal text in the field of giraffe science, 1976’s The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behaviour and Ecology.

In 2019, Innis Dagg was named an honorary member of the Canadian Society of Zoologists and a Member of the Order of Canada.

She was awarded an honorary degree from U of T in 2021. In her address, she urged graduating students to chase their curiosity even in the face of challenges.

“Find another way. Reach out to others who will help you. Look for those mentors who will bring out your best — and shine,” she said.

“Finally, be kind to nature and the animals with whom we share the world. It is my everlasting hope that people will treat animals and their environment with the same respect as we treat each other.”

Read more about Innis Dagg at U of T Mississauga

Watch Innis Dagg receive her U of T honorary degree