‘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.

Meet Tippi

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.”

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A Parent’s Decision

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.

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Early Instincts

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.”

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She Was Fearless

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.

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She Was A Quick Learner

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.

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She Understood Danger

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.

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Parents Didn’t Always Trust The Animals

But, They Knew She’d Always Be Safe

Her parent 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.”

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But, They Knew She’d Always Be Safe

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.”

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Her Best Friend Was An Elephant

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.

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She Was Also Close With A Leopard

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.

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An Animal Whisperer

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.

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Hugging Bullfrogs

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.

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Riding An Ostrich

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.”

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Befriended Bushmen

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.

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One With The Tribe

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.

Visited Many Places

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.

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Kissing Snakes

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.

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Sleeping With Lions

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.

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Feeding Zebras

A Career In Film

When Tippi grew up, she decided to study cinema in France. Perhaps it seems surprising that she did not choose to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. But she actually spends a lot of her time working for conservation, and film-making is an effective way to spread awareness. 

A Career In Film

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 in this moment.

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Riding Elephants

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.

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Cooling Off With The Herd

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 cloths. 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.

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Unconventional Friends & Belongings

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 is prevalent that there is a deep understanding and bond between the animal and Tippi. She gentle caresses his hand as though they are studying each other.

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Monkeying Around

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.

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Turtle Teachers

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.

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Big Beasts Loved Her

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.

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Perfectly Timed Pictures

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 to her. Riding elephants came with ease for her. It was a bonding activity with a friend, not a tourist attraction.

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She Was On Top Of The World

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 away their child in fear of a possibly bite. But, Tippi’s parents, Sylvie and Alain, knew she had the situation under control.

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Extreme Love For All

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.

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Wardrobe Choices

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.”

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Didn’t Love Being Photographed

Many Of The Animals Were Tamed

Although Tippi was pictured with many wild animals, her parents admit that many of the animals were tamed by local farmers. Sylvie told The Telegraph, “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.”

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Many Of The Animals Were Tamed

She Was A Daredevil

Tippi, as stated previously, was fearless. She grew up with all different types of animals. Her parents always said she had no problem approaching a species whether it was bigger or smaller than her. Not matter the animals’ reputation she always says the best in each one. She clearly shows that as she has no hesitation while cuddling this little guy.

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She Was A Daredevil

Only Bitten Once

Even though she was amongst thousands of animals, Tippi was only biten once. Tippi’s middle name is Okanti, which means mongoose or meerkat. Ironically, her first bite was on the nose by a Meerkat. However, there was also an incident where Cindy the baboon attacked Tippi’s hair and pulled out a handful. Sylvie believes it was done as an act of jealousy.

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Only Bitten Once

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.

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Her Life Chronicled

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.

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Leaves For A Different Jungle

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.”

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A Rough Transition

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 wanted to become an ambassador for Namibia. However, the pressures of modern life were making her slowly forget her life’s calling. She needed a wake-up call.

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Ambassador For Namibia

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. Even though she wanted to go back to the wild, she knew she must complete her education.

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Following In Her Parents’ Footsteps

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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She’s Not The Only One

The Best Case Scenario For Tippi

Even though there may have been cases of children growing up in the jungle, none of them are like Tippi’s. This is the only story that had a decidedly positive impact on the little girl’s life. Usual the real-life “feral” children can suffer a great deal growing up with wild animals. but not Tippi! She loved every minute of it, while most children grow up loving unhealthy snacks like pop-tarts, she would beg for just a mouthful of local sweet coconut.

The Best Case Scenario For Tippi

Lifelong Love of Animals

Even after her family moved to France, she and her parents knew it would only be a matter of time before she would go back to Namibia and she was going to dedicate her life to bridging cultural gaps and protecting the wildlife of Africa. She wanted to go back, but the world tried to stop her every step of the way. But she was going to fight to make it come true.

Lifelong Love of Animals

Where Is She Today?

After her documentary Around the World with Tippi, she more or less vanished from the public eye, even though they were hungry to see more of the young woman who was raised by wild animals. But she was determined to keep a low profile out of the limelight. She wanted to go back and be one with the land where she grew up, without cameras. But she didn’t know Cameras would be her ticket back.

Where Is She Today?

Helping Animals Through Film

The world had a different plan in store for her, and even though she tried to go back to live in Namibia, it didn’t work out. So she decided to pursue a different plan- to use her film degree to do documentaries about Africa. This would allow her to pursue an interesting career and also do a lot of good for social justice.

Helping Animals Through Film

Going Back?

This was her ticket back to the wild! She was able to visit Africa several times in order to shoot documentaries for the Discovery Channel. She reconnected with the tribespeople as well, on the trips. You can find out more about her in the various interviews conducted and her book, “Tippi: My Book of Africa.”

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She Will Forever Miss The Wild

Shaped The Woman She Grew In To

She was delighted to be reliving her glory days and spending time with the people she felt most at home with- reptiles and her beloved tribespeople. They were so happy to see their little Tippi all grown up! They shared stories around the campfire and Tippi knew she was home.

Shaped The Woman She Grew In To

The Jeep

She managed to secure more funding to even get an off-road vehicle that she needed to keep filming her documentaries. It is an extremely adventurous life. While most 25-year-old girls worry about their Instagram account, Tippi worries about making sure her camera equipment doesn’t get stolen by monkeys!

The Jeep

Unique Position To Help People

She was even able to reunite with some of the African tribal children that she grew up with. Tippi thinks that everyone needs to have a friend from a different culture. If everyone had a friend from a different culture, we would be one step closer to world peace.

Unique Position To Help People

Cheetah Spirit

Even though Tippi has adored all animals her whole life, she has always identified with one above all the others. You may think it would be elephants, but the truth is she has always identified with the noble cheetah. She enjoyed waking up before dawn just so she can sit on her jeep and watch the creatures.

Cheetah Spirit

Her Home

However, she still doesn’t have her Namibian Passport. She is still fighting for citizenship, but we are sure that she will obtain it before too long. For now she is on a visa that she can visit as often as she likes. She keeps her life very private which we really respect, but we can only hope that she will marry a tribesman and have an amazing tribal wedding!

Her Home

A Lesson For All Of Us

One thing that Tippi says was important for her as a child is that she was always allowed to do things even if they were “dangerous.” Kids these days would never be allowed to play with a real bow and arrow as Tippi did, and that taught her great responsibility at a very young age. Perhaps this is something we who live in cities can learn from- that children need more time to roam and be free.

A Lesson For All Of Us