Isn’t our earth just the most amazing place? We need to treat it with care so our grandchildren will be able to enjoy its beauty the way we have.
Happy Earth Day!
I cried often during the movie The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. It’s the story of Dr. Anne Dagg, a Canadian who went to Africa in 1956 to study giraffes for a year. She observed them for ten to twelve hours a day making copious notes, keeping charts, filming and photographing them. Anne was 23, just out of university, and had been in love with giraffes ever since seeing them in the zoo as a child. Anne went to Africa before Jane Goodall had begun her research with primates and so there was no precedent for a young woman doing such a daring thing. But Anne’s mother encouraged Anne to go and follow her dream.
Anne came back to Canada after her time in Africa. She married and had a family. But she was determined to return to Africa to further study her beloved giraffes. The only way to do that was to become a tenured professor and get a research grant. So while raising her three children she obtained a PHD in animal behaviour.
She wrote a textbook about giraffes and had dozens of articles printed in prestigious science periodicals. But when in 1972 after a very successful teaching stint she applied at Guelph, Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier universities for a tenured position she was rejected despite her numerous academic awards and ground breaking research, because she was a woman. One university told her she should be looking after her husband and children, not teaching science.
Her dream to go back to Africa and study giraffes seemed doomed but Anne, appalled by the way she had been treated because of her gender, became an activist, writer, speaker and advocate for women’s equality in academia.
Almost unbeknownst to Anne her books and articles continued to be the ‘bible’ for scientists interested in studying giraffes. In 2010 Amy Phelps, the giraffe keeper at the San Francisco Zoo decided she was going to track Anne down and invite her to a conference for giraffe care professionals. At the conference Anne was thrilled to be the first recipient of an award for giraffe research named in her honour. Anne started communicating with other scientists and was delighted to be making new connections with giraffe devotees all over the world.
Director Alison Reid wanted to write and produce a movie about Anne’s life so arrangements were made to film Anne in Africa visiting her beloved giraffes once again. Anne was in her 80s but her dream to revisit Africa was finally realized. While in Africa Anne was saddened to learn how the giraffe population has been reduced by 70% since her first visit in the 1950s. The future of the giraffe is bleak. So Anne has begun another crusade- speaking, writing and fundraising to save the giraffe.
Anne’s story moved me to tears. I loved her independence and passion. I loved the way her mother supported her. I loved it that she fought for herself and that she used her experience as inspiration to fight for other women. Mostly I loved that in her eighties her contributions were recognized, her dreams realized, and she had the courage to tackle new challenges. It makes someone like me who is in her sixties realize that many good and exciting things might still await me on life’s journey.
In February of 2019 the University of Guelph hosted a screening of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. They invited Anne and gave a public apology to her for the way the university had treated her. They also announced they were establishing a Dr. Anne Dagg Scholarship for research to be awarded annually. Way to go Anne!
I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around……and look up. I am going to…… listen. Anne Lamont“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
There shall come Spring rains
When all seems lost to the cold decay
And winter shall release its icy reign.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough.
Toasting the sun,
See spring twirl
Flower-cups in the air.
Would I could wipe from your brow,
The furrows of care!
“I glanced out the window at the signs of spring. The sky was almost blue, the trees were almost budding, the sun was almost bright.”
— Millard Kaufman
The photos in this post were taken in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Moose Lake, Rome, Portugal, Kyoto and Hiroshima
Today is National Manatee Day, so I am reposting this blog I wrote in 2014. We went snorkeling at Three Sisters Springs a manatee sanctuary near Homosassa Florida where we were staying with our friends Jeff and Anna. Jeff arranged the tour for us and suggested we go on the 6am launch with a boat from the Bird’s Underwater Inc.
Few snorkelers or kayakers are in the water at that hour and so the manatees are laid back and friendly. The West Indian manatees wait for the sun to come up before heading out to the Gulf of Mexico to eat seaweed.
It was very cold and we left the dock in darkness and fog with our knowledgeable and capable guide Donna. When we arrived at the springs only the two boats from our sanctuary with about 10 snorkelers each were there. And did we see manatees! How I wish I’d had a underwater camera. (The photos of manatee in this post were all taken from on board the boat after we’d been in the water for about ninety minutes.) One of the women snorkeling with us said this was her fourth visit to Three Sisters springs and she had never seen as many manatee on any previous dive.
They swam right under us. I’d think I was swimming over a high rock only to glance down and realize there was a manatee beneath me. Once I looked over and Dave had one manatee nipping at his ankles, another with its nose right up to his face mask, and he was petting a third beside him.
Donna told us if we were very still in the water the manatee would come right up to us and they did. I could pat their thick hide and feel the bristly hair on their bodies, touch their long whiskers, run my fingers along the scars on their skin, brush away the algae sticking to their backs, rub their bellies when they flipped over and see the seaweed in their mouths. Their flat wide tails brushed against my body and they nibbled on my hair.
The manatees have a sort of pre-historic quality about them and that makes sense because they’ve found fossils of manatee in Florida that are 45 million years old. Their nearest relative is the elephant.
We saw little babies and juveniles and huge adult manatees We saw mothers nursing their babies and adults mating. We didn’t realize how cold we were after all that time in the water till we got on board and were just shaking. The manatee were so amazing you didn’t even think about being cold. Once Dave had his wet suit off and his clothes back on he stood out in the sun at the back of the boat to warm up. As we left the Three Sisters Spring area about ten new boats had arrived with dozens and dozens of snorkelers. Kayaks were beginning to fill up the cove. The manatee wanting to escape from all the commotion were heading out to sea in large numbers and away from the spring area. I was so glad we’d come early before so many of the manatee left the cove.
Swimming with the manatee was a great experience. I was a little apprehensive and scared about it before hand but the manatee were so gentle and it was such a thrill to get up so close to such intriguing sea creatures.
Other encounters with interesting creatures are described in these posts……….
During our time in Merida, Mexico I had a fascinating conversation with a Uber driver named Oscar who is a marine biologist. He drives Uber to help balance the family budget. I asked Oscar what kind of projects he was working on as a marine biologist and he told me about the huge infestation of sargassum grasses along the ocean fronts in Mexico. Large mats of the smelly free-floating brown seaweeds are clogging the beaches.
The seaweed gets its name from the Sargasso Sea an area of the Atlantic where the seaweed in Mexico was first thought to originate although scientists now trace it to a large bloom off the coast of Brazil.
“Sea turtles are drowning because they can’t get to the surface as they make their way through the seaweed mass to come to shore and lay their eggs,” Oscar told me. Sargassum can also harm corals, seagrass and sponges. As the seaweed decays, it reduces oxygen levels for a time. Dolphins and other sea mammals have been trapped in this oxygen-deprived water.
I asked Oscar what is causing this unusual phenomena and he said scientist have several theories. Nutrients and chemicals dumped into the ocean by farmers, urban developers, industrialists and forestry projects is one possible cause. Another is climate change and the increase in water temperatures. Apparently the two things sargassum needs to thrive are warm water temperatures and an increase in nutrient levels in the water.
The sargassum grass is almost impossible to remove effectively and is directly impacting the Mexican economy because it causes tourists to stay away from beaches and resorts and makes things difficult for locals who fish for their income. Oscar says some resorts are erecting concrete barriers in the ocean to prevent the sargassum from washing in but this can have harmful repercussions for all kinds of sea life.
When I talked with Oscar I was in the midst of completing a writing assignment for a week of spiritual meditations about the environment. Our conversation reinforced for me the importance of thinking and writing about creation care.
My husband Dave likes to visit zoos when we travel. It is not my favorite thing to do. I feel so sorry for the animals especially in some zoos where the poor creatures seem to be trapped in such miserable living conditions. So every time he wants to visit a zoo and I protest Dave cites the Life of Pi argument.
Pi says many people think zoos are cruel places run by wicked people who throw animals into tiny jails. The trapped animals have their free spirits broken.
Pi says animals aren’t free in the wild either. They live in a dangerous environment with a deadly animal hierarchy and are in constant fear that they won’t find enough to eat. They must constantly defend their territory.
Pi says wild animals are very territorial and their enclosure at the zoo is just another kind of territory where they are safe and have easy access to food and water.
Pi claims zoos are no better or worse for animals than the conditions they experience in the wild. In fact he says animals probably prefer zoos because there aren’t so many bugs and enemies and there is lots of food.
I had to listen to Dave make this argument again when we visited the zoo in Merida Mexico on a brutally hot day where the close quarters of the animals and the almost overwhelming smell did little to convince me that Dave or Pi was right. Dave on the other hand spent a happy hour checking out all the wild life.
I have yet to come up with a good enough counter argument to prevent further trips to zoos on holidays. Do any of my readers have one?
Thanks to my friend Rudy Nikkel for the photos of the animals in the Merida Zoo.
A few years ago Dave, who isn’t always very enthusiastic about taking photos suddenly took an interest in using my old Canon to capture nature shots. He’s taken some lovely pictures and so on our vacations now I do a post with his photos. Here is the Mexico 2019 version.