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.
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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.
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.
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.
director of photography
post production supervisor
workflow and dailies processing
art director, animation
creative director, animation
digital versioning technician
video post executive producer
sound design and re-recording mix supervisor
dialogue and narration editing
sound effects editing
re-recording mixer / sound conform
sound studio assistant
archiving audio elements / backups
Helicam International Ltd.
Free Spirit Films Inc.
insurance provided by
The CG&B Group
interim financing by
Flir Systems Inc.
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
Rothschild's Giraffe Project
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
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executive director unscripted content
The Nature of Things with David Suzuki
produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
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