SHE HAS been described as the "real-life Mowgli", a child who grew up in the African bush. Her friends were the elephant, leopard and ostrich she played with in the sun-baked wilderness.
The extraordinary photographs of little Tippi Degre that appeared in last week's newspapers tell only part of the story, however. It emerged this weekend that the elephant was a veteran circus performer and had featured in films and commercials.
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....
Robert acknowledged that "a child in the bush, playing with a leopard, that doesn't exist in nature". But she defended the Mowgli comparison on the grounds that even if the creatures Tippi had played with were raised by humans "they are still wild animals".
There was certainly no question of Tippi, who is also seen in a loincloth, being brought up by the beasts, the fate that befell Mowgli. She lived with her parents, albeit at times in a tent in the bush when they were filming. She came into contact with animals mainly when the family visited friends with large ranches.
Among them was a cattle farmer with the leopard J&B, whose mother had given birth in a trap.
The leopard, Tippi explains in the book, had been fed with a bottle but had never been tamed. On one occasion he bit a local Namibian boy. "I played with him," she writes. "He could feel that I was not afraid of him so he never attacked me."
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