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Tippi of Africa Is Our Spirit Animal

December 01, 2014

Until recently, I thought my childhood was fairly exotic. Though I lived in the suburbs, my father often worked in Africa, and I told people he was a zookeeper (he wasn’t). When he returned home from trips, he’d bring me creepy dolls and the occasional malachite animal statue.

But my illusion of myself as a savanna-roaming rogue was shattered the day I heard about Tippi Degré, who quite literally spent her childhood clambering up elephant trunks and being lovingly licked by cheetahs.

The daughter of French wildlife photographers, Tippi was born in Namibia, where she quickly became one with the landscape. She purportedly had few human friends, which explains why she ended up on such intimate terms with lions, lizards, and the like.

From the looks of it, she cut her own hair (with a rock) and sported a wardrobe that consisted of loincloths, loincloths, and more loincloths. She was chummy with the Hima tribespeople of the Kalahari, and she knew how to survive on roots and berries.

It’s no wonder that, when she moved back to Paris as a teenager, “she was found to have little in common with the other children” and, according to Wikipedia, opted for homeschooling. I imagine it must have been a pretty rough come-down from frolicking with leopards to sucking down Gauloises among the disenchanted Parisian youth.

And really, when I think about who I’d rather have more in common with—a French adolescent or a wild cheetah—the answer is pretty clear.

Photos by Sylvie Robert

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Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and brand strategist. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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