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‘The Real Life Mowgli’: The Girl Who Was Raised By Animals

Tippi Degré has been dubbed the “real-life Mowgli,” as she was raised amongst wild animals. After writing a book about her life and appearing in several documentaries, Tippi became a point of fascination for people everywhere. The pictures and the story of her childhood are unbelievable.

Meet Tippi

Tippi Degré was born in Namibia, in June 1990, to French couple Sylvie Robert and Alain Degré. Tippi was named after the famed actress Tippi Hedren. Hedren is best known for her role in Hitchcock’s film The Birds. When Tippi was born, her parents decided she would not have a normal childhood but would be raised amongst wild animals in Africa. For the next 10 years, she would spend her days running elephants and making friends with leopards.

A Parent’s Decision

Tippi’s mother, Sylvie, had no regrets about the decision to give her daughter an extremely unique upbringing. She told The Telegraph, “It was magical to be able to be free in this nature with this child, 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.”

Early Instincts

Sylvie told The Telegraph, that when she was young, Tippi’s everyday life was making sure monkeys did not steal her bottle. She also recalls on many occasions, as a young infant, she would call her over and “point to an elephant eating from a palm tree and say ‘mummy, be quiet, we’re going to frighten him.” Many children, at such a young age, would not have those strong instincts about wild animals.

She Was Fearless

From a young age, it was obvious to her parents that Tippi was fearless. She was able to integrate herself into the lives of these enormous, wild animals. Sylvie 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.” Her best friends became those “ferocious beasts.”

She Was A Quick Learner

As her mother stated before, her infancy was spent worrying whether a wild animal would take her bottle away from her. However, this was possible from an early age as she was running around the jungle from a very young age. The People reported that Tippi was up and walking around by the time she was 10 months old. Most babies are still crawling on all fours at that age.

She Understood Danger

Tippi obviously didn’t have a normal upbringing. Her dangers were much more serious than most children. Many children had to look both ways before crossing the street, Tippi had to be on her guard constantly, watching out for ferocious beasts. Survival techniques were taught to her from a very young age. Although the story behind this picture has not been heavily reported, we believe her parents (like most parents would) did not let her play around with knives.

Parents Didn’t Always Trust The Animals

Tippi once befriended a lion cub named Mufasa. Many pictures were captured of the moment. A year after their original meeting, Tippi and her family went to see Mufasa. He had grown into a very large cat. Although the lion was friendly with Tippi, giving her a friendly rub, his tail nearly knocked her over. Her parents decided to step in and keep her away from the animal.

But, They Knew She’d Always Be Safe

Her parents do not regret the decision they made for their child. Sylvia said “For me it was incredible to think you offer all of this to a child, 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.”

Her Best Friend Was An Elephant

When Tippi was only one and a half years old, she met Abu the elephant. Her mother described how she did not see the size of the elephant and run in fear. She would just look into its eyes and speak to him like he was an old friend. Her mother describes the original meeting and the bond they quickly made as “incredible.”

She Was Also Close With A Leopard

Tippi once told The Telegraph that her best friend with a leopard named J&B. The leopard had been adopted by a local farmer, as its mother had died in a trap. The animal was very calm with Tippi, however, it never lost its killer instincts. She recalls a time the cat attacked another child. Tippi walked up to it and told it to stop. The animal did and ran away.

An Animal Whisperer

Clearly, from a young age, Tippi had a gift. She was able to connect with animals on levels many other humans are unable to do. Sylvie explained, “Tippi always said that everybody was gifted and this was her gift.” Tippi’s gift was being to communicate with animals. Her gift allowed her to meet many different animals, and her parents to get some amazing photos along the way.

Hugging Bullfrogs

Most little girls may freak out at the possibility of even touching a small frog. However, not Tippi. She was a friend to all animals, including the slimy ones. Here her parents were able to capture an intimate moment between their daughter and a very large African Bullfrog.

Riding An Ostrich

Many ostriches in the wild would normally run away from humans, as they see them as predators. Luckily, the Degrés were able to encounter a tamed ostrich. This one’s name was Linda, and it was owned by a local farmer. Tippi looks very carefree, letting the wind blow through her hair, as she rides the flightless and large bird’s back.

Befriended Bushmen

Throughout their travels, the Degré family would also encounter many tribespeople. Tippi especially befriended the bushmen and people of the Himba tribe in the Kalahari. The tribe taught Tibbi how to survive on roots and berries, speak their language as well as use a bow and arrow. Her mother said, “When we filmed the San Bushmen of northern Namibia we would let Tippi spend the day with the group without us until she would fall asleep among the kids.”

One With The Tribe

She was accepted by the local tribe children from the beginning. Sylvie said, “When we came to a village with African children, within two minutes Tippi was the clown and people found her so cute.” She describes how the African children were so accepting of her and enjoyed playing with her, and they were especially fascinated by her hair. Unfortunately, she never found that acceptance when she had to leave Africa and go back to Europe.

Visited Many Places

The Seabird Islands are located off the coast of South Africa. It is a very important breeding site for coastal birds. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Degrés took a trip to the island. Also, no surprise, Tippi was able to become one with the flock. Here she is seen at age 6, with arms outstretched. She is completely in sync with her surroundings.

Kissing Snakes

Once again, Tippi’s strong connection with animals shines brightly in this photo. Tippi allows the snake to slither up her bare skin and give her a little kiss. Many young girls, and even grown adults would run away screaming. However, not Tippi. Her parents were able to snap this perfect photo, a true testament to the young girl’s bravery.

Sleeping With Lions

As stated before, one of her best friends was a leopard. However, she didn’t just play with big, wild cats. She enjoyed naps with them too. Most children sleep with a stuffed teddy bear. Tippi took that concept to a whole new level. She cuddled with live lion cubs during her naps. However, the two look very peaceful and it is clear that the cub also enjoyed Tippi’s presence.

Feeding Zebras

When going to the Zoo, people are normally instructed not to feed the animals. However, in Tippi’s case, she had no rules. Here we see Tippi feeding a Zebra. The Zebra seems very excited about what she has to offer in that container. As always, Tippi is calm and collected as is the animal. Food is a great way to make friends not matter what species you are.

Riding Elephants

By now, the fact that Tippi also rode elephants should definitely not be a surprise. In this photo especially, you can see her bond with the animal. She isn’t just riding the elephant but it is cradling her with its trunk. It shows the amount of respect, love, and trust each has for the other. Tippi looks completely serene and relaxed at this moment.

Cooling Off With The Herd

Tippi was completely accepted into the local elephant herd. As seen before, they were more than happy to give her a lift. Now, we see that the herd is also welcoming in their bathing or cooling down time in the local pond. Although Tippi is excited and splashing the water, the elephant remains calm. This once again shows how trusting the elephants were of her.

Unconventional Friends & Belongings

Tippi had a very unconventional lifestyle from her home to her clothing to her friends. Many young girls grow up wearing dresses, she wore animal skins and loin clothes. Many young girls carry purses, she carried a suitcase made from local trees. Many young girls snuggle with a teddy bear or a favorite stuffed animal, she snuggled with live animals. But judging from this picture, she loved every second.

She Was A Daredevil

When people hear crocodile, they tend to stay away. Crocodiles have a bad reputation and are known for being vicious. However, Tippi did not see violence in this crocodile, but only another chance to make a new friend. We see her proudly standing on its back while balancing on one foot. The crocodile remains still, as though he also does not want Tippi to fall.

Monkeying Around

Tippi’s playmates, beside the local tribes' children, were animals, including monkeys. Monkeys have come to be known as one of the most intelligent animals in the animal kingdom, with many similarities to current day humans. Here, it's prevalent that there's a deep understanding and bond between the animal and Tippi. She gentle caresses his hand as though they are studying each other.

Turtle Teachers

Through her early years, Tippi was home-schooled. Her parents used their knowledge as well as the wild environment to teach their daughter all she needed to know. We believe that her parents must have used the behavior of animals in multiple lessons, including turtles. Turtles can teach great moral lessons such as patience and determination towards your goals. Later in life, after attempting a public school, her parents realized that homeschooling was the best option for her.

Big Beasts Loved Her

The African Elephant is one of the largest land animals on Earth. They can grow up to 8.2-13 feet tall and can weigh 2.5-7 tons. African elephants can also live to be 70 plus years old. Elephants normally travel in herds, and if you didn’t believe it already, Tippi was a part of their herd. Tippi was seen riding and even bathing with elephants, but here we see a direct connection of affection.

Perfectly Timed Pictures

Tippi definitely has the best photo album of her childhood. As you have already seen she has pictures with some amazing wild animals such as elephants, lions, crocodiles, monkeys, and turtles. This is mostly due to her parents. Her parents had the foresight that bringing their daughter up in the wild was a good idea. They also have the eye for amazing pictures, as they were wildlife documentary makers. This photo is a true testament to their ability to capture a photo at the picture time.

She Was On Top Of The World

Unfortunately, many circuses and other entertainment spectacles have come under fire for mistreatment of animals. Animals are forced to perform stunts and entertain spectators sometimes under very harsh conditions. However, with Tippi, she did not need to punish or harm the animal in order for them to listen tp her. Riding elephants came with ease for her. It was a bonding activity with a friend, not a tourist attraction.

Extreme Love For All

Tippi had a love for all animal, cute or ugly, big or small. If it wasn’t apparent by now, this picture will certainly change your mind. Her is a close up picture of her once again smooching a slimy reptile. Most parents would probably pull their child away in fear of a possibly bite. But, Tippi’s parents, Sylvie and Alain, knew she had the situation under control.

Wardrobe Choices

Just like Mowgli, in The Jungle Book, Tippi spent most of her life in minimal clothing. She is photographed many times wearing a just a loincloth or other light fabrics. However, this was done to keep Tippi cool in the hot African climate. Transitioning to everyday clothing like jeans and a t-shirt must have been difficult for her.

Didn’t Love Being Photographed

When she was 12, she returned to Africa to film documentaries for the Discovery Channel. Her mom says it was a wonderful experience. However, Tippi disagreed. She told The Telegraph “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.”

Many Of The Animals Were Tamed

When she was 12, she returned to Africa to film documentaries for the Discovery Channel. Her mom says it was a wonderful experience. However, Tippi disagreed. She told The Telegraph “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.”

Her Life Chronicled

When the “outside world,” began learning about Tippi, the public immediately wanted to know more. Multiple documentaries have been made about her and her experiences. Le Monde Selon Tippi (The World According to Tippi) was released in 1997, Tippi en Afrique was released in 2002, and Around the World with Tippi was released in 2004. Around the World with Tippi included six wildlife and environmental TV documentaries, which premiered on the Discovery Channel.

Leaves For A Different Jungle

After her 10 years in the jungle, it was time for Tippi to enter mainstream society. She and her family moved back to the city. Adjustment to life in the city was hard for Tippi. They moved into a small flat and didn’t even have enough room for a dog. She went from having the whole African continent as her playground to the small metal structures most people grew up knowing.

A Rough Transition

The first two years of her transition were especially hard. Her parents tried to assimilate her into “normal” society by sending her to a local state school in Paris. Unfortunately, she had little in common with the other children and began home-school. In order to ease her desire to be around animals, the family bought Tippi a budgie. Her mom said, “It would go everywhere with her, even on the train, flying right by her side, sitting on her head or falling asleep on her shoulder.”

Ambassador For Namibia

Tippi looks back on her life and feels extremely blessed for the experiences she had. At a young age, she began running her own website where she declared “My name is Tippi. I am African and I was born 10 years ago in Namibia.” Sylvie told The Telegraph, “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.”

Following In Her Parents’ Footsteps

Once she was fully adjusted, Tippi attended public school and eventually attend university at La Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. She studied film and was last reported as supervising tigers at Fort Boyard, the site of a popular game show. This picture was snapped of her at the FICMA, the international environmental film festival.

She’s Not The Only One

There have been several other cases where a child was raised by animals. For example, Marina Chapman was believed to be kidnapped and then abandoned. For 5 years, she found refuge with a group of capuchin monkeys. The monkeys taught Marina how to catch birds and rabbits with her bare hands. In 2001, a young Chilean boy was found amongst a pack of dogs. He had been living amongst them for 2 years. Officials report the dogs protected him and helped him scavenge for food.

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