The Incredible Story of Tippi Degré Who Grew Up Alongside Wild Animals
Born in Africa to French wildlife photographer parents, Tippi Degré had a most unusual childhood....
Born in Africa to French wildlife photographer parents, Tippi Degré had a most unusual childhood. The young girl grew up in the African desert and developed an uncommon bond with many untamed animals including a 28-year old African elephant named Abu, a leopard nicknamed J&B, lion cubs, giraffes, an Ostrich, a mongoose, crocodiles, a baby zebra, a cheetah, giant bullfrogs, and even a snake. Africa was her home for many years and Tippi became friends with the ferocious animals and tribes people of Namibia. As a young child, the French girl said, “I don’t have friends here. Because I never see children. So the animals are my friends.”
Parents Alain Degré and Sylvie Robert documented Tippi’s life and relationships with the African wildlife and transformed those moments into captivating books and movies. Tippi of Africa, published in 1998, told Tippi’s story of she and her parents, and Tippi’s close bonds with wild animals made her quite famous. Her mother said, “She was in the mindset of these animals. She believed the animals were her size and her friends. She was using her imagination to live in these different conditions.”
Mowgli has always been one of the most-loved characters from children’s literature. I loved the Jungle Book cartoon movie when I was a kid and I must say it is a favorite even today. So when I heard about this real-life Mowgli character, I was fascinated.
Folklore and fairy-tales always mention that wild animals do not hurt the young ones of any species. But that theory hasn’t exactly been tested out in the real world, and there have been cases where babies were reportedly killed by man-eating lions or tigers. But that’s what makes Tippi Degre’s story that more special. Now 23 years old, Tippi is the only child of French wildlife photographer parents, Alain Degre and Sylvie Robert. Her parents’profession and their work in Africa made the young girl’s childhood unique, giving her the opportunity to interact with wild animals in incredible ways. She was named after actress Tippi Hedren, who is said to have kept fully-grown lions as pets in her home, and little Tippi was no different from her namesake, demonstrating early on the ability to form unusual bonds with the creatures of the wild.
It’s very surprising that animals otherwise considered extremely dangerous were able to accept little Tippi and include her as one of their own. Her parents say they used to be very gentle with her always making sure they didn’t hurt her. Especially Linda the ostrich, who was supposedly so afraid of hurting the girl that Tippi’s parents rarely got a chance to capture them riding together. Linda wouldn’t move at all with Tippi sitting on her, afraid she might cause the child to fall. About her daughter’s relationship with Abu the elephant, mother Sylvie says: “She had no fear. She did not realize she was not the same size as Abu. She would look into his eyes and speak to him.” But it’s not just the animals that Tippi got along with so well. Growing up among the native tribes people of Namibia, she was taken under their wing and taught all sorts of survival techniques of the wild. She could speak their language, hunt and knew how to feed herself with roots and berries.
Tippi lived in the wild for the first 10 years of her life, after which her parents took her back to their home country, France. She was sent to a French state school, and was a local celebrity. But things did not go very well for her in the city; she did not take too well to civilized life, as her parents had hoped. School was difficult since she had almost nothing in common with the other children in Paris. She went to school for only two years, after which her parents took to homeschooling her. But her upbringing ensured that she has remained a unique human being for life.
The 23-year old went on to study cinema, supervised the well-being and treatment of tigers for a popular international game show in France, and wrote a book called Tippi of Africa, which became a bestseller. Very little is known about her life today. Last we heard she wanted to get a Namibian passport because she always believed she was African. Rumor has it she may have gone back to Africa to resume her friendship with the wild.
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