Tippi Hedren in California, photographed by LIFE magazine during the early 1970s. Best-known for her role in Hitchcock’s The Birds, Tippi is also the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, who is the little girl you just saw lying in bed with a lion, and also above with her head in its mouth.
In 1969, Tippi was filming a movie in Africa and visited an abandoned house in Mozambique occupied by 30 lions and their cubs. The time she spent there with the lions changed Hedren’s life forever and prompted her and her husband to make a movie about what they had seen.
They decided to start their own pride of 50 homegrown lions, acquiring them one by one. Tippi met with Ron Oxley, a man with an animal-rental business in Soledad Canyon (an animal-rental business renting out lions) who told them that “to get to know anything about lions, you’ve just got to live with them for a while.”
And so she did.
The whole family was involved in the feeding and care of lion cubs, who could be both loving and destructive at the same time. Tippi shocked a lot of people when she admitted that she absolutely made sure the cubs even slept with her or her children, believing that nothing was more important than day-and-night communication.
As preparations for the film progressed, neighbours began to complain about the family’s ‘pets’ and authorities cracked down.
And so the family packed up their things (and their wild cats) and moved to the remote Soledad Canyon to live on the reserve with the lions, where they continued the on-and-off filming of Roar.
During production, Tippi’s daughter Melanie, 19 years old at the time, was attacked by a lioness and needed 50 stitches to the face. The director of photography was scalped.
“They are dangerous. Everyone in my family has been hurt, so I’m aware of the dangers that exist with [all wild] animals, ” said Tippi at the time, who also had her arm severely scratched by a leopard, and was was bitten on the chest by a mountain lion.
Although this did not deter Tippi from dedicating her life to the animals, she now takes a different view on the idea of wild animals in the home and believes they should not be kept as pets.
Tippi Hedren with daughter, Melanie Griffiths at the Shambala Preserve
Soon after production of the film wrapped in 1983, she founded the Shambala Preserve, a fully functioning animal sanctuary to protect exotic animals who have suffered from gross mistreatment and neglect.
Huge numbers of dangerous animals are bred and sold in the United States for illegal purposes and Shambala has welcomed over 50 big cats, often dangerous; lions, tigers, cougars, black and spotted leopards, servals, bobcats, Asian leopard cats, and a jungle cat so they can regain their physical and mental health and live out their lives in dignity.
After the zoo at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch was shut down, his two tigers, Thriller and Sabu, were sent to live at Shambala. When Jackson passed away, Hedren said she had told the tigers that he died. “You don’t know what mental telepathy exists from the human to the animal. But I hope they understood,” Hedren told The Guardian.
Hedren still looks back with nostalgia however to the days when she had wild animals in her home:
“I miss nursing the cubs very much,” she said. “I really treasure that experience. There’s nothing sweeter than a little baby lion or tiger cub. They’re magical.”
To this day, Tippi still runs the Shambala Reserve, a non-profit organization in California.