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close up of a giraffe

Everyone knows what a giraffe is. “G” is for Giraffe in the alphabet and “Sophie” the Giraffe teething toys can be found in the hands of practically every newborn baby. But, most people don’t know much about giraffes, or that these iconic creatures of wild Africa, with their long necks, cinnamon spotted coats, flirty lashes and loping gait are disappearing at an alarming rate. Two hundred years ago there were a million giraffes, in 2000 there were 140,000 roaming Africa’s plains. Now, fifteen years later, their numbers have plummeted to less than 80,000.

And, yet there has been a bewildering lack of awareness and recognition of the threat to the survival of these gentle giants, especially compared to the other large mammals of Africa. Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants delves into the reasons behind this “silent extinction” and introduces us to the scientists, and biologists who are making remarkable headway gathering new information in labs, universities and in the field, that may stave off their declline.

Share a slideshow from CBC.ca/kids with your children to learn more about giraffes.

Until the ground breaking work carried out by University of Waterloo’s Dr. Anne Innis Dagg, little was known about these silent giraffes. After earning her Master’s Degree at the University of Toronto, she went alone to Africa in 1956–57 to study the behavior of giraffes  – a study which was the first of its kind for wild animals in Africa. Her 1976 book, The Giraffe: its Biology, Behavior and Ecology is the bible in the field.

“Anne is the Jane Goodall of giraffe research” says Anne’s friend and colleague, John Doherty who is the Coordinator of the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Samburu, Kenya where much of Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants was filmed. Doherty, along with other scientists is carrying out ground breaking studies in the areas of infrasound (low frequency sound humans can’t hear) using the most current research and state of the art technology. Forgotten Giants’ sound recordist Jason Milligan spent months putting together the necessary equipment to do the delicate recording featured in the film. At Samburu, Kenya they made recordings that may prove giraffes use infrasound to communicate. It is potentially a world first that could give a voice to these seemingly silent creatures.

land cruisers for giraffe watching in africaSpecially outfitted jeeps to observe the giraffe in Africa.

Also using cutting edge, FLIR THERMAL CAMERA TECHNOLOGY, Doherty and Muller are able to observe giraffes at night, in a natural, relaxed manner, without scaring them away. Giraffes are shy, skittish reatures, and DOP Russell Gienapp built platforms on Toyota Land Cruisers, filming behind blinds built by locals to keep them running away from his cameras.

Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants also introduces us to a number of individual giraffes - both in the wild in Africa and in captivity in Canada.

We learn from Zoe Muller that giraffes who were previously thought to be bad mothers, in fact have a very strong social bond with their young. They not only take care of their own infants, but also those of other mothers – displaying babysitting behaviours, shared nursing, grieving, and dedicated guarding of their young at night.

Scene from the film: A giraffe is born.

Jason Pootoolal, a young zookeeper at African Lion Safari in Hamilton, Ontario introduces us to the first giraffe born by artificial insemination. He and his team are developing assisted reproductive techniques for a highly endangered subspecies of giraffe. Their research has garnered them the award for Outstanding Achievement from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It might help bolster giraffe populations. At African Lion Safari, the crew were able to film with no problem, since the giraffes are used to interacting with Jason and his team, especially during their regular ultrasounds to monitor the pregnancies of the females they have artificially inseminated in their world leading program.

The more that is revealed about their biology and behaviours, the more we can do to help giraffes. We know they are killed for their meat, and are threatened by environment encroachment by the locals. We know they are at risk from the large predators they live amongst. But is there more to the story?

Right now, more than any time in their history, we need to listen to these seemingly silent giants. Through the work of the scientists in Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants, that might soon be possible. 

Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants was directed by Mark Johnston and produced by Amanda Handy  for Nomad Films in association with CBC.

Credits (Click to expand)

executive producer
Mark Johnston

produced by
Amanda Handy

Alison Reid

Mark Johnston

written by
Mark Johnston
Alison Reid

director of photography
Russell Gienapp

additional camera
Michael Morrow

camera assistants
Jomba Lemasian
Michael Lesoipa

Robert Kennedy

music by
Michael Hanson

sound recordist
Jason Milligan

production manager
Amanda Handy

production coordinator
Stacia Neale

associate producer
Russell Gienapp

technical engineer
Keith Barrow

production accountant
Linda Stregger

post production supervisor
Amanda Handy

online editor
Kyle Smith

workflow and dailies processing
Joseph Murnaghan

senior colourist
Mark Driver

art director, animation
Peter Auld

creative director, animation
Sam Javanrouh

digital versioning technician
Tim Camilleri

post producer
Bianca Santos

animation producer
Candice McHugh

video post executive producer
Paul Moyer

sound design and re-recording mix supervisor
Daniel Pellerin

dialogue and narration editing
Rob Hutchins

sound effects editing
Geoff Raffan

re-recording mixer / sound conform
Christopher Guglick
Jeremy Fong

sound studio assistant
Jeremy Fong

narration recording
Chris McLaren

archiving audio elements / backups
Oren Edesen
Jeremy Fong

Maria Komech

stock/still footage:
Helicam International Ltd.
Eric Hallard
Free Spirit Films Inc.

legal services
Danny Webber

insurance provided by
The CG&B Group

interim financing by
Rogers Telefund

international distributor
PBS Distribution

special thanks
Caroline Underwood
Jim Hardie
Flir Systems Inc.
Soysambu Conservancy
African Lion Safari
Reticulated Giraffe Project
Queen's University Belfast
Kenya Wildlife Service
Samburu County Government
Isiolo County Government
Samburu National Reserve
Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Westgate Community Conservancy
The People of Westgate
The People of Kiltamany
Wilderness Lodges
Rothschild's Giraffe Project
Abdi Boru
Petro Ebuni
Eva Kirobi
Simon Leirana
Tomas Leletur
Hector Muganda
David Mwangi
Josephat Muinde
Wilfred Ombok

Produced with the Participation of the Canadian Media Fund
Produced with the participation of Rogers Documentary Fund
Produced with the financial participation of Rogers Telefund

With the assistance of The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit
With the assistance of The Ontario Film and Video Tax Credit
Produced with the cooperation of the Canadian Federation of Musicians

Produced by Nomad Films Inc.for the CBC

director of production
Alexandra Lane

director of finance

Julie Lawlor
executive in charge of production
Sue Dando

executive director documentary programming
Mark Starowicz

executive director unscripted content
Jennifer Dettman

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produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 

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