London, November 17 : Eighteen-year-old Tippi Degre might have been called the real-life "African Mowgli" after extraordinary pictures showing her playing with an elephant, leopard, and ostrich appeared in the media last week, but it has now emerged that all those creatures were tame animals.
The elephant who appears with the little girl, currently a student of cinema at the Sorbonne in Paris, in the pictures was a veteran circus performer who had featured in films and commercials.
Other animals photographed with the girl, whose story has only just been published in English under the title: Tippi: My Book of Africa, were orphaned creatures that had been brought up by humans on ranches.
Tippi's ostrich friend Linda lived on a farm, and was destined to become somebody's dinner.
Her pictures with Abu the elephant, whom she called "my brother", a leopard named J and B were taken by her parents, wildlife photographers Sylvie Robert and Alain Degre, in Namibia, where Tippi was born and lived for the first decade of her life.
Tippi lived with her parents and was not brought up by the beasts. She came into contact with animals mainly when the family visited friends with large ranches, including a cattle farmer with the leopard J and B, whose mother had given birth in a trap.
Tippi's mother, however, defended the Mowgli comparison on the grounds, insisting that even the creatures her daughter played with might have been raised by humans, but "they are still wild animals". Tippy has revealed in the book that the leopard had been fed with bottle, but had never been tamed.
"I played with him. He could feel that I was not afraid of him so he never attacked me," Times Online quoted her as writing. She was introduced to Abu by a conservationist named Randall Moore, who specialises in the rehabilitation of elephants from safari parks, circuses and zoos.
The animal had just been seen trampling a porter in the film White Hunter, Black Heart, directed by Clint Eastwood.
"Tippi fell in love with the elephant. She was only one at the time, still in her nappies. Abu nuzzled her with his trunk and she was giggling. She had no fear at all. To see this child in front of an elephant like that was amazing. She didn't notice the difference in size," said her mother last week.
The elephant died in 2002 at the age of 44. He had appeared in numerous commercials, and was skilled at complicated routines such as "rescuing" an actor from drowning.
Tippi's mother revealed that The Jungle Book, based on the Kipling story, had been her daughter's favourite film as a kid.
"She would jump up and down with excitement when watching it," she said. "She looked like Mowgli's little sister," Robert said.