This engaging account traces the remarkable history of France's first giraffe, a diplomatic gift from Egyptian Pasha Muhammed-Ali to King Charles X in 1826. "Zarafa," taken by boat from Egypt to Marseilles and walked all the way to Paris, was accompanied by her Arab handlers and a famous French naturalist. She drew vast crowds along her route, sparking a giraffomania that was widely documented in art and literature. Her initial journey and then long and celebrated residence in Paris encapsulates nineteenth-century French socio-political history and highlights the emerging evolutionary theories of the time. Over fifty illustrations from the period illuminate this rare encounter with a unique animal that is now endangered and deserving of our greater attention and understanding.
Foreword by Bruce D. Patterson
1 The giraffe before Zarafa: A polymorphous monster
2 Illustrious godparents: A predestined animal
3 The pasha’s gift: Ddiplomacy at stake
4 Zarafa in France: A royal triumph
5 The animal under a magnifying glass: An aberration of nature
6 Between science and religion: An animal at a price
7 Trade and giraffomania: Marketing materials
8 Political caricature: A satirical weapon
9 Zarafa’s legacy: An existential fable
About the author and translator
A writer, novelist, and translator from La Rochelle, France, where Zarafa has been preserved in a local museum, Olivier Lebleu has researched and written about the “first giraffe of France” for fifteen years. This book is a translation of his celebrated history, Les Avatars de Zarafa (Arléa, 2006), later followed by his play, Le Talisman de la Girafe (Amok, 2017).
Cynthia T. Hahn is professor of French at Lake Forest College, Illinois. A published poet, she has translated ten novels, collections of short stories, and volumes of poetry by Algerian, French, and Lebanese authors.
"The story of Zarafa is an engaging historical account of African-European encounters that should activate the reader's love of the giraffe and help save this incredible, endangered animal. This well-researched book by Olivier Lebleu contributes to our efforts to support global understanding of how wildlife such as the giraffe and people may thrive together."
– Derek Lee and Monica Bond, Wild Nature Institute, Tanzania
"The story of Zarafa is a fascinating look into the not-so-distant relationships of humans with giraffes and how they were brought to Western culture. Understanding history is the first step to moving forward toward a better future – for the human and animal worlds alike."
– Jack Hanna, host, Jack Hanna's Into the Wild and Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown
"Giraffa display marvelous adaptations to their savanna ecosystems and have achieved considerable evolutionary success over the last eleven million years, but they face unprecedented challenges in the twenty-first century [...] Resolving these challenges and reversing these declines clearly depends on humans. Lebleu and Hahn offer us a very timely perspective [...] as giraffes need our attention and support now more than ever."
– Bruce D. Patterson, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago