fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

A Real-Life Jungle Book

Tippi of Africa

By Rebecca Barnes | Photography by Sylvie Robert

It’s not every day that you meet a child who has a real elephant for a best friend. Nor do you often witness a child riding on the back of an ostrich or even petting her feline friend who is not a normal house cat, but a real leopard. Yet this was a commonplace event in the life of one lucky girl who was born in Namibia and grew up in southern Africa for the first decade of her life. The girl is Tippi Benjamine Okanti Degré.

“My name is also Okanti, which means ‘mongoose’ in the Ovambo language, one of the Namibian tribe,” Tippi says on her website. “It can seem like a strange idea to call your daughter Mongoose, even if the word ‘Okanti’ sounds nice. It is, nevertheless, the beginning of my story.”

Like the fearless mongoose, Tippi became known for her daring and bold encounters with other members of Mother Nature’s wild kingdom.

Tippi’s parents, Sylvie Robert and Alain Degré, are French wildlife photographers and filmmakers who lived and worked for almost twenty years photographing and filming animals in southern Africa. They worked in national parks and wildlife reserves, living in tented camps in the bush. Tippi scarcely got a chance to meet other kids and naturally befriended all the animals she met. When her parents visited friends on wildlife farms, there was always an orphaned or rescued caracal, mongoose, or baboon living with the family and being raised by them. Tippi would take any opportunity to play with these animals, spending as much time as she could with them, while her parents documented their interactions in a series of captivating photos.

Tippi of South Africa A Real-Life Jungle Book Rebecca Barnes Sylvie Robert Leopard

The family lived that life until Tippi was ten, when they moved back to her parents’ home in France. Tippi experienced culture shock moving away from Africa, and she missed her animal friends. She decided to share her experiences and insights from her time in Africa in a book, which she titled Tippi: My Book of Africa. The photos that captured her experiences with the animals are stunning and speak of the connection she shared with each creature.

Tippi became known as “the little girl who could speak to animals.” She says could communicate with them using her eyes, mind, heart, and soul—but mostly her eyes. After her family moved back to France, she would catch pigeons in the streets of Paris to cuddle them. They couldn’t be kissed, though, because they were not wild and clean like the animals she used to kiss in the bush.

Although Tippi says she believes in guardian angels, she doesn’t necessarily believe in God. Her connection with the animals seems to be a spiritual one, with an unspoken level of respect and understanding.

During her ten years in Africa, Tippi formed stronger relationships with certain animals than with others. One of them was Abu, a thirty-something-year-old elephant that Tippi first met when she was only one and a half years old. He belonged to Randall Moore, a friend of Sylvie and Alain, who brought Abu to Africa from a circus in the United States. This was one of Tippi’s favorite animal friends and she referred to him as her “brother.” She loved to sit behind his head, on his soft spot. Abu would follow her around like a babysitter, was always gentle with her, and was careful not to step on her. The kindness that Abu demonstrated is readily apparent in the photos of him with Tippi. In her book, Tippi says, “That is the way elephants are; they pay close attention to little ones.”

Tippi of South Africa A Real-Life Jungle Book Rebecca Barnes Sylvie Robert Tippi of South Africa A Real-Life Jungle Book Rebecca Barnes Sylvie Robert

The leopard Tippi befriended, J&B, was hand fed and raised by people, but he was never tamed. The unlikely pair played together often, and he never caused her harm. In all her adventures with her leopard, cheetah, and lion cub friends, Tippi was never afraid, but of course, there were times her parents would not allow Tippi to interact with certain animals, such as one particular lion cub. His name was Mufasa and he is pictured on the cover of her book. Tippi and Mufasa played together when he was small, and the cub would even suck on her finger while she slept. They parted ways for a year and by the time Tippi saw him again, Mufasa had grown quite large. During their reunion, he accidentally knocked her over with his tail, and Sylvie and Alain were not at ease with this lion’s growing strength. The encounter ended, but the memories of the bond they shared are documented in Tippi’s stories and the photos her parents took.

Tippi of South Africa A Real-Life Jungle Book Rebecca Barnes Sylvie Robert Elephant

Tippi’s experiences don’t end there—her animal friends included meerkats, ostriches, bullfrogs, pythons, and more. She was especially fond of chameleons, which she had as everyday companions. Her journey, documented by the stunning photography, shows us that it is possible to connect silently with other species in nature if we show them the respect and reverence they deserve—when we show fear, we get something to fear in return. Tippi was never afraid of the animals. Children tend to trust before that trust has been earned, but for Tippi, it was not a matter of trust. She couldn’t afford to trust a wild animal when she did not belong to the same species and therefore didn’t live with the same codes. The main rule she permanently had in mind was what her parents had taught her: never to fear but always to be on the watch.

Tippi communicated with the animals, and it seemed that these animals sensed the respect and love that she had for them. These photos and memories are the proof, and the love between Tippi and her friends shines through.

— V —

To learn more about Tippi Degré and her adventures, visit www.tippi.org. Tippi: My Book of Africa is available for purchase through Amazon, Google Books, Barnes and Noble, and other major retailers.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine September 2023 Jay Mercado
VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail