Looking at this adorable child cuddling a giant bullfrog, chilling with a cheetah, rubbing noses with meerkats and dancing playfully with an African elephant, you'd think it was just like a scene out of The Jungle Book.
And indeed, from first glance, the childhood of this little French girl was almost identical to that of Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli, the happy-go-lucky human child raised by a pack of wolves with the learned ability to chat with his animal pals. Check out the trailer for Disney's 1967 masterpiece here:
Born in Namibia to French wildlife photographer parents, for the first 10 years of her life, Tippi Degre treated the African bush as her playground, seeing nothing unusual about the lion cubs, elephants, snakes, giraffes, crocodiles and zebras that she kept as loyal playmates.
Speaking back then, she even went as far to say:
"I don’t have friends here. Because I never see children. So the animals are my friends.”
Indeed, Tippi's life was remarkable and all thanks to her parents' profession, her Mowgli-like existence was well documented. Taking to their cameras, they often observed with fascination how the young girl made friends with the wild beasts of the animal kingdom, eventually publishing the awe-inspiring images in the book Tippi: My Book of Africa.
Take a look at some of these unique encounters:
Over the years, the little girl's parents, Sylvie Robert and Alain Degre, took their daughter with them on travels throughout Africa, visiting stunning landscapes throughout Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Her mother recalls:
"Her everyday life was making sure monkeys did not steal her bottle,' said Sylvie. Or she would call me over and point to an elephant eating from a palm tree and say 'mummy, be quiet, we're going to frighten him. She had so much freedom."
From the unique photos, it's clear that Tippi had a blast and Sylvie concurs:
"It was like having the biggest playground. We lived in a tent, completely in the wild, but she always woke up with the sun shining and her parents around her. She was very lucky."
And the wonderful thing is that Tippi was fearless, allowing her to form friendships with some of the largest and most dangerous beasts in the entire animal kingdom. For example, approaching an African elephant:
"She did not realise she was not the same size as Abu the elephant. She would just speak to him [...]They used to call her 'the little girl who would talk with animals."
However, despite her infectious fearlessness, that's not to say Tippi's parents weren't cautious letting her frolick with potentially dangerous creatures!
Her mother assured us that whilst they let her make friends, also:
"Wild animals are unpredictable. We can't be sure of their reaction as we are not of the same species, we don't know all of their behavior codes."
One of these incidents occurred when Tippi was stroking Cindy the baboon (pictured below) at a water point, for example. During the encounter, the cheeky primate attacked the little girl's hair, pulling out a handful out of jealousy.
Yet, it seems that despite having to deal with a less-than-friendly encounter from time to time, on all other occasions, the animals were quite taken with her, showering her with little nuzzles and loving affection.
The return to modern-day civilization
At the age of 10, Tippi returned to her parents' native country where she struggled adjusting to city life in Paris. At the time, she really missed the animals that had been so welcoming to her in their natural habitat in the African bush. Her mother Sylvie thinks back at that time, saying:
"She missed the animals so much. We didn't have room for a dog in our flat, so we got a budgie instead. 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. She loved that little bird so much. He was the only friend she had."
As a teen, momentarily she was able to return to the bush! Tippi's love for Africa's wildlife brought her back to southern Africa to make a six-part nature documentary with the Discovery Channel. Shortly after, she returned to Paris again.
So, where is Tippi today?
Right now, the real-life Mowgli is a 25-year-old and has received a diploma in cinema studies at the prestigious Sorbonne Nouvelle university in the French capital.
And despite living in a concrete jungle of the Parisian metropolis, she continues her passion for wildlife conservation and can't wait to get back to Namibia. Her mother recently told us:
"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."
Well, she may be thousands of miles away from the savanna and watering holes of Africa for the moment, but until she gets herself back there, her memories continue to live on in the pages of her parents' book!