It was Gabriel DARDAUD (1899-1993), director of the France-Presse agency (AFP) for the Middle East from 1940 to 1944, who by chance unearthed in Cairo the incredible story of France’s first giraffe. Only a few archivists, museum curators or private collectors had preserved traces of the passage of the beautiful giant in the early 19th century.
Dardaud was so passionate about this story that he compiled the sources and collected the relics. In 1956, he was expelled from Egypt after the attack on Port Said and the Suez Canal by Franco-British forces. He immediately resumed his post at AFP, but this time in Beirut. Then, as a correspondent for France-Soir and Europe 1, he became one of the great voices covering the long Lebanese crisis.
In 1984, Dardaud helped the Musée de l’Île-de-France, housed in the Château de Sceaux, to mount the first major exhibition on the subject. The following year, after 57 years spent in the Middle and Near East, Dardaud left Lebanon after his apartment was ransacked by a militia of Muslim fundamentalists, and moved to Paris. Back in France, he lectured on Zarafa.
Dardaud ends up procuring a reference work, now out of print, which remains a jewel of erudition and humor: Une girafe pour le Roi (“A Giraffe for the King“, Dumerchez-Naoum, 1992). When Dardaud died the following year, he bequeathed the bulk of his collection of objects and images devoted to the giraffe of France to the Musée de Sceaux.
His work was republished in 2007 by Elytis Editions, with a preface and annotations by Olivier Lebleu.