By Joan Larsen
“Fascination” has to be the word so many of us have for that little French girl, born in Namibia (with photographers as parents), whose photos taken with African wild animals – who actually looked tame in her presence – were both beautiful and – yes – mind-boggling ! Many new photos of Tippi, the adorable little girl, have now emerged, further whetting our appetites to actually buy the latest book, chock full of photos… a book called Tippi – My Book of Africa. You can get a copy at your library — though Amazon certainly wants your business!!
Tippi is no ordinary child. She believes she has a gift of talking to animals and they are all like brothers to her. “I speak to them with my mind, or with my heart and soul. And I see that they answer me.”
What can I say to that? These are the wildest animals of Africa, each capable of killing anything they see in minutes. And yet, it is almost as if Tippi and the leopard have come to an understanding. And yet it injured another child in a moment. Even if the elephant actually “loved Tippi,” one slip and the long fall from the top of its head would have been disastrous!! What could a mother be thinking?
I have spent considerable time in Namibia and Botswana, travelling in open cars both during the day and in the evenings when the animals were searched out by spotlight. We were adults. We understood the possible dangers and accepted them. But we had had elephants unpredictably – for no reason I could see – charge our vehicle. We have had hippos on land pen us in, freezing us on the spot. We have had a very long snake – like the one Tippi is holding – and found to be poisonous, wrapped around our outdoor toilet, claiming it as his own (We were not going to dispute that!). Even with the best guides in Botswana, we were forever on the alert. On the other hand, Tippi runs through knee high grass – snake habitat – with no one giving a thought to possible dangers.
Tippi actually was filmed in preserves or farms, so we are told, where the locals had taken in orphans and raised most of these wild animals. Was a child two years old then “safe” to become friends with them? I don’t think so. These videos and photos were not just taken for fun – or do you think they were? Then why else are large amounts of money now being made with videos and books and articles of the young life of the small child???
Tippi’s mother calls it “a wonderful experience.” However when she was at age 12 in Paris, the English newpaper, Telegraph, quotes Tippi as saying: “No, Maman, it is not true I loved it. It was great to see the elephants and lions, but it would have been better if it hadn’t always been in front of a camera. For me, it was hard work, it was difficult, it was hot and I was not happy all the time. I was worn out by the end of it.”
You will see how the films are cut. I am guessing they were done over and over. The child was under 5 – and no matter how trusty the rifle that the African held as the filming was done, I had seen deaths of humans happen in a single second when they felt safe and got too close.
The latest videos on YouTube of Tippi – obviously held for years – show her swimming with whale sharks at a young age. Whale sharks? While whale sharks don’t consider Tippi a meal, they range to 60 feet long and one swing of their body or tail – accidentally even – would be like slamming off a high building.
I will leave my comments to myself on this and let you judge. For those “caught up” with Tippi as I have been, you will find this hour-long new video truly beautiful. That the videos are in French means little. I promise you will be mesmerized by the photography and care little about the words.
For the first time, a photo of Tippi as a young attractive adult. She has been active in some Discovery Channel documentaries, but she is at the Sorbonne in Paris, pursuing a degree in cinematography, still wondering what her future will hold.
She states, “I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be normal.” We have to smile. For – for those of us who have lived vicariously with this child’s life in the wild – to us, she will always be “Tippi of Africa.”
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”
PHOTO CREDITS: PHOTOGRAPHY BY SYLVIE ROBERT / BARCROFT MEDIA LTD. FROM TIPPI MY BOOK OF AFRICA, available HERE on Amazon.com