U of T Mississauga event to spotlight Anne Innis Dagg, the founder of giraffe science

This year's virtual Snider Lecture includes screening of an award-winning documentary about the esteemed zoologist followed by a Q-and-A

Widely considered the founder of giraffe science, U of T alumna Anne Innis Dagg is a passionate advocate for equity in academia (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

At the age of 23, as a recent University of Toronto alumna, Anne Innis Dagg defied the naysayers and set off alone for South Africa.

The year was 1956 and a young woman travelling solo overseas was unusual. She faced multiple obstacles, but Innis Dagg was driven by her lifelong curiosity about the world’s tallest mammal: the giraffe.  

“I just wanted to see them and be near my beloved giraffe. I didn’t really think about it being unusual,” Innis Dagg said recently during a conversation at her home in Waterloo, Ont. “It was just something I wanted to do.”  

Today, she’s widely considered to be the founder of giraffe science.  

Innis Dagg will be the focus of this year’s virtual Snider Lecture at U of T Mississauga, which includes the screening of an award-winning documentary – the Woman Who Loves Giraffes – followed by a pre-recorded question-and-answer session with the esteemed zoologist. 

Anne Innis Daag (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

“We are excited to bring a special presentation to our remote audience,” says Lawrence Switzky, associate professor in the department of English and drama at U of T Mississauga and chair of the Snider Lecture Committee. “For the past 49 years, the Snider Lecture Series has brought together members of our community to learn about, question and reflect on some of the most important issues around us.” 

The documentary the Woman Who Loves Giraffes recounts Innis Dagg’s time in Africa and her subsequent publications, which formed the basis of giraffe study. The film also details her struggles as a female academic in the 1960s and 1970s, which prompted her to call out sexism in academia and champion feminist causes.  

Innis Dagg’s ties to U of T are numerous and enduring, dating back generations. Her mother, Mary Quayle Innis, was a former dean of women at University College. Her father, Harold Adams Innis, was a renowned political economist and the namesake of Innis College. He was interested in biodiversity and was an avid adventurer and explorer, once travelling by canoe to the Arctic to observe beavers, moose and bears.  

“I inherited those traits from him,” Innis Dagg said.

Innis Dagg earned an honours bachelor of biology degree from U of T in 1955 and later went on to earn a master’s degree in genetics from the university. She also has a PhD from the University of Waterloo. 

During U of T’s spring 2021 convocation season, she was recognized with an honorary degree. The same year, she was named an Alumni of Influence at University College

In her convocation address, Innis Dagg recounted the “demoralizing” experience that helped propel her passionate advocacy for equity in academia.  

In 1968, she was hired as an assistant professor in the zoology department at the University of Guelph, where she taught courses on mammals and wildlife management – but she did not receive a tenured faculty position.

“My career was sidetracked by the institutional sexism that was rampant in academia,” said Innis Dagg, who has tackled gender issues in several of her more than 20 books.  

She acknowledged that the fight for equality isn’t over. “Women should continue to demand their place in science. I encourage them to reach out to mentors and peers to develop a support network and continue to push forward, even if it feels uncomfortable.” 

Now 90, Innis Dagg is working to ensure the future of giraffes via a foundation she runs with her daughter, Mary Dagg.  

“One of the philosophies of my foundation is that education equals conservation. The more people know about giraffes, the more they want to become engaged in their survival.”  

For children aged seven to 17, the Anne Innis Dagg Foundation offers the Junior Giraffe Club to engage and inspire a new generation of giraffologists.  

More importantly, she wants to instil a sense of determination and engagement: “Get involved in whatever your passion is.” 

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