Tippi Degré, The Incredible Animal Girl Of Africa

Tippi Degré plays with her best friend, J&B the jaguarTippi Degré spent the first 10 years of her life traveling through the African lands of Botwana, Namibia, and South Africa in a 4×4, befriending wild and dangerous animals along the way.

Her parents, documentarians and wildlife photographers Alain Degré and Slyvie Robert, lived in the Kalahari desert for six years before Tippi's birth in Windhoek, Namibia in 1990.

She was given the name Tippi Benjamine Okanti Degré. Okanti means mongoose in Namibia's Ovanbo language. It seems even before she was born, her parents predicted the amazing bond she would share with animals.

Her adventures led to her nickname, "the incredible animal girl of Africa."

From a very young age, she shared friendships with many animals- especially because there were few children her age to befriend.

Tippi was just short of being like Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." She couldn't talk to the animals, but the relationship she shared with them got close.

"Understanding animals, this is my gift," she said in her book, "Tippi: My Book Of Africa." "Not any kind of animals: only wild animals from Africa. I speak to them with my mind, or through my eyes, my heart or my soul, and I see that they understand and answer me."

She considered a 28-year-old elephant named Abu her brother, and a leopard named J&B her best friend.

Tippi Degre rides her "brother," Abu the elephant

By no means were these tame animals. When J&B attacked another child, Tippi was furious.

According to her father, Tippi stomped up to J&B, slapped him across the nose, and ordered him to, "stop that." J&B ran away with his tail between his legs.

She's also ridden ostriches, cuddled and napped with lions, and splashed in rivers teeming with crocodiles.

Tippi Degre plays with a monkey

Her bravery seems to have stemmed from her parents' mantra to her:  "Don't be afraid. Be careful."

"Our friends sometimes get frightened when they see her playing with some of the more dangerous animals," Tippi's mother said in an interview with the Telegraph. Then they realise it's okay – because it's Tippi."

When Tippi moved to Paris with her mother when she was 11, her life was in for a drastic change. She had become a celebrity, but her desire to return to Africa remained ever-present.

"I miss Africa – that's my home," she told an interviewer in 2002. Since moving from Africa, she had returned to film 6 Discovery Channel documentaries called "Tippi in Africa."

Tippi pets a baby zebra

When her mother told reporters that she loved filming the documentaries, she was quick to speak her mind.

"No, Maman, it's not true that I loved it," she said. "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."

"The reason I did the films and will do more is to show that we have to do something about saving the animals and the planet before it's too late … I don't want to be famous. I just want to be normal."

That was said more than 10 years ago, and yet again she's in the spotlight. Tippi will be 23 this June. Perhaps as an adult she'll be able to follow her dreams and return to the continent she is so passionate about.

"Tippi believes she is African and she wants to get a Namibian passport," her mother said. "She wants to become an ambassador for Namibia. It is like Mowgli's story, but Tippi's is true.

Tippi Degre runs with a monkey, tail in hand