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Now Tippi's new book, 'Tippi: My Book of Africa', showcases the magical images that have led to comparisons with Rudyard Kipling's young hero in The Jungle Book.
Born in Windhoek, Namibia in 1990, Tippi Benjamine Okanti Degre was named after Tippi Hedren, the actress who starred in Hitchcok's 'The Birds'.
Living with her French parents, wildlife photographers Sylvie Robert and Alain Degre, the three of them travelled extensively through Africa on a unique and incredible adventure.
"It was magical to be ale to be free in this nature with this child," explains Sylvie, Tippi's mother. "She was a very lucky little girl - she was born and raised until the age of ten totally in the wild. It was just the three of us living in the wild with the animals and not too many humans."
STRAIGHT FROM UK TELEGRAPH IN 2008
From sitting on the back of an ostrich, lying peacefully with a young leopard or sitting on the trunk of an elephant, these amazing pictures show an unusual bond and tranquility between man and beast.
"Tippi always said that everybody was gifted and this was her gift," explains Sylvie. "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."
Using her innocence and imagination, the young 'Mowgli' befriended one of the giants of the animal kingdom, Abu the African elephant.
"She had no fear," says Sylvie. "She did not realise she was not the same size as Abu the elephant. She would look into its eyes and speak to him.
"She was a year and a half when they first me and it was a special time - just incredible. In another picture, you see her with the caracal, she looks almost sad in this photo but she is confident."
But some animals were so taken with Tippi, that she almost became an extension of them.
Her mother added: "Linda, an ostrich from one of the African farms we visited, was so nice that we couldn't even take a photo of Tippi riding her. Linda was so afraid of riding Tippi she didn't want to move."
However, despite the apparent ease and comfort with which they interact, Sylvie and Alain always put Tippi's safety first.
"You can't just meet any of these animals and act like this with them," explains Sylvie. "Wild animals will either run away or attack you if they are either frightened, injured or need to protect their young.
"But in the arid or semi desert regions of Southern Africa people have farms of 10 000 to 20 000 hectares. The farmers often keep orphan animals and raise them in their house. Sometimes they are tame or used to humans and so this is how Tippi was able to be so close with them."
However, there were moments when Sylvie and Alain, who have since divorced, had to keep a special eye on their daughter.
Sylvie said: "The photo with Tippi next to the young lion cub Mufasa sucking her thumb is wonderful.
"The year after this photo we came back and we went to see him and he was huge.
"Mufasa came to Tippi and he friendly brushed her with his long tail, like a cat would do, and she almost fell down. I had to take her away - I was not at ease."
Matthew explained that other animals photographed with the girl were orphaned creatures that had been brought up by humans on ranches. Linda, an ostrich befriended by Tippi, who is photographed perched on her back, lived on an ostrich farm. She was destined to become somebody’s dinner."
But for Sylvie, her decision to bring up her child in the African wilderness was the correct choice - and she has no regrets.
"For me it was incredible to think you offer all of this to a child," she says. "Because I was at ease, because I liked it and because we had lived with the Meerkats in the Kalahari desert for six years before Tippi was born, I believed it was fantastic to have that to offer to a child compared to what I would be able to offer to a child living in a city for example.
This summer Tippi passed her Baccalaureate and entered La Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris where she follows her past two years of cinema studies at the Lyceum.
Sylvie added: "Tippi believes she is African and she wants to get a Namibian passport. She wants to become an ambassador for Namibia. It is like Mowgli's story, but Tippi's is true."
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tippi Degré (born 4 June 1990) is a French girl, who spent her childhood in Namibia among wild animals and tribespeople. After moving to Paris, France with her parents, she returned to Africa to make six nature documentaries for the Discovery Channel. She is known among other things for supervising the tigers in Fort Boyard, off the coast of France, which is the stage for a popular international game show.
Tippi Degre is hanging upside down from a trapeze slung from the beams of the cramped Paris flat. The phrase "little monkey" springs immediately to mind - and not just because of her childish acrobatics.
"I miss Africa - that's my home," the 12-year-old says sadly. Then she plops herself in front of the television to watch a music video.
For 10 years, Tippi wandered the bush dressed only in a loincloth, befriending some of the world's most ferocious animals.
Her playground was the hills and the harsh desert tribelands of southern Africa; her companions were big cats, elephants, snakes and crocodiles.
She moved to the French capital with her mother three years ago. Since then a book of her adventures has been published, she has set up a website, and has returned to Africa to film six nature documentaries for the Discovery Channel.
The trip was, says Sylvie Robert, Tippi's mother, a "wonderful experience", despite the gruelling filming schedule. "She was really at home, because at heart she is a little African."
Tippi disagrees. "No, Maman, it's not true that I loved it. It was great to see the elephants and the lions, but it would have been better if it hadn't always been in front of the camera. It was hard work, it was difficult, it was hot and I was not happy all the time. I was worn out at the end of it."
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