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Tippi Hedren

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Tippi Hedren

Founder and Director, The Shambala Preserve

"Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Tippi HedrenMost of us know Tippi Hedren through her work in motion pictures. The star of Alfred Hitchcock's movies "The Birds" and "Marnie," Miss Hedren suddenly found herself in the midst of a sea of large cats while preparing for the film "Roar." She was thrust into an awareness of the plight of both wild and captive cats, and their story has become her life. Over the years, she has become their spokesperson and their champion, spending a large part of her time working both with them and for them. Miss Hedren's presentations are a plea for understanding and preservation of the animals of the wild. This small and lovely personage houses a heart as bold as a lion's and as determined as that of a tiger. While on the one hand she is engaging your interest with whimsical stories and amusing anecdotes, on the other hand she is subtly inundating you with a message of protection, conservation and respect.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Tippi Hedren after her presentation at IWRC Conference '98. This is her story.

online: (laughing) On behalf of rehabbers, ornithologists and bird watchers everywhere, do you know what you've done ?!

Tippi: (laughs) It sounds like you've been to that movie! Well, it was probably a really terrible thing, because now when you look at the birds as you walk outside, you can have that thought of them organizing and attacking. As the ornithologist in the movie "The Birds" said, we wouldn't have a chance, and that's really scary!

online: Only Hitchcock could think of that!

Tippi: Yes, that's true… but did you know that the film "The Birds" is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier?

online: When you appeared in the movie "The Birds," were you at all "into" animals in the way that you came to be later on?

Tippi: I always loved animals, but I certainly wasn't involved with them like I am now. Then, I had my cats and my dogs.

online: At the time, did you find all those birds a little creepy?

Tippi: No, I thought they were fabulous. A number of them seemed like friends, but others I was wary of because they had literally been taught to do bad things.

online: You became aware of the plight of performing animals through the course of your career. Prior to that, what had your impression been?

Tippi: I don't know that I really thought about the plight of performing animals then. I'd simply always been enchanted by seeing animals.

online: What in your early years impressed upon you this love and respect for animals?

Tippi: I don't think anybody impressed it upon me as much as I was born with it… I've always had a fascination for animals. I loved watching them, and even then I thought of them as beings rather than pets. I call it a birth affect!

online: What shaped the deep sense of commitment to animals you have now?

Tippi: Well, the feeling was always there, but the commitment came when the movie "Roar" was over. There was absolutely no thought… this was their home, they were safe, and they were family.

online: What was in your mind when you decided to "jump in" and take responsibility for these animals? Mine was a sinking heart… I wondered what I'd do for an encore!

Tippi: (laughs) well, it was all of a sudden that all these animals were coming to us. It quickly became obvious to us that not only the animals in the wild had a problem, but so did the animals in captivity. They were being born and bred here. That really formed a commitment that was never going to be changed. There didn't seem to be anything in sight that would change the proliferation of animals that were being bred, really, for illicit purposes. It was a monetary thing, and greediness. The animals were in the situation of being furniture, of being moved around. The attitude was, if you don't want them anymore, sell them to somebody else; it doesn't matter where they go, just sell them. This is an unconscionable act that is still being performed all over the United States.

online: Do you feel that this is your true life's work and that your experiences as an actress have been a means to this end?

Tippi: You know, I think it was the hand of God playing checkers with lives and what they're meant to do; I do believe that. I've thought about that so often, because when I did the two Hitchcock films, I found I couldn't put up with that Hitchcock "stuff." I didn't want to, I didn't have to, and I didn't think any amount of money was worth something that would take away what you believed in or what you stood for. I didn't want to do something my parents and daughter couldn't be proud of. Now, there's Shambala. For Shambala and the preserve, I'd give it up all over again.

online: Did you set up Shambala and the Roar Foundation?

Tippi: I did. A woman helped me to get the foundation together. It's an enormous process to get a 501(c)(3) to set up a foundation! This is a woman who had been through it all before, and when we finally tied it all up and it was all done, she said "I have a gift for you." I said: "Oh, good, I love presents"! Then she said, "It's a word. Shambala. A meeting place of peace and harmony for all beings, animal or human." It was perfect.

online: Are you familiar with the Three Dog Night Song, "How does your light shine, on the road to Shambala?" In the song, they're referring to a Hindu "higher place," or heavenly place, where "everyone is helpful, everyone is kind."

Tippi: Yes, and it's beautiful. Wouldn't it be glorious if the whole world would be like that?

online: How does Tippi Hedren's light shine?

Tippi: My light shines… when things get really tough. It's always a major problem trying to raise the money because, you know, the costs are around $50,000 a month. Any time it gets really, really rough I start walking around the preserve and I look at the animals.  I think about the abuse they have suffered and how happy they are now due to the people who work with me and share my philosophy.  Then I'm ready to get back to work.

online: I wish everybody could have seen you give your presentation at the conference, to see the absolute commitment, the dedication and the love you have for what you're doing. It is so very obvious.

Tippi: You know what's so good? Everybody who works with me feels the same way; It isn't a nine to five job. We are so protective about those animals… nothing, nobody, is going to hurt those animals.

online: At the conference, you were speaking to a room of 300 people who feel exactly the same way.

Tippi: I know that… it was very obvious and absolutely wonderful.

online: I understand that there is now an association with people who will place and others who will take exotic animals who need help. Will the presence of the American Sanctuary Association and their web site allow more cats to be placed when necessary?

Tippi: I hope so, but in the association, we're all so overextended… we don't have unlimited space or monies, and that's a big Tippi, with Chris Byrne and Joe MacLeodproblem. We have no money in this organization whatsoever in order to say: "Okay, if you could take this cat, we'll fund and build another compound." That's why this networking is so important. If I can't take it, I can call Carole or Chris or Wally and say, "There's a primate that needs a home… can you take it, or you, or you"? At least there are places where we know they're not going to buy, they're not going to sell, they're not going to trade and they're not going to breed. This is what the American Sanctuary is about. We don't want anymore breeding. We don't want anyone buying and selling these animals and seeing them moved from one place to the other, because it's brutal for them. They're being shoved into little boxes and being shipped off to somebody; you don't know how they're going to be treated… it's horrific for them.

online: We humans treat them as property.

Tippi: Yes, as part of the furniture; throw away animals. We do it to ourselves; we do it to other humans. We're not good to each other.

online: Do you work hands-on with the animals? Earlier, you found yourself bottle feeding cubs, tending wounds and taking care of their daily needs. Are you still doing these things?

Tippi: Not like I used to, because the administration and raising the money takes me away. I can't tell you how hard it is. When the crew walks the animals I'll go along, but I don't have any one-on-one with the animals now because you have to work with these animals every day. They're not the kind of animals someone unfamiliar can do that with; the comfort level has to be there for them. It's important that the animals be familiar with their caregivers, and it's a safety measure. The humans know the animals, and the animals know the humans. I can't have that anymore; I'm so envious of the people that work with me!

online: You started out working one-on-one with the big cats. What were your feelings when everything evolved and you were taken away from that aspect?

Tippi: That's right, I did work one-on-one with them. Then, all of a sudden you've got all of the other responsibility, especially financial. It breaks my heart. I had to relinquish the individual care of the animals to my crew.  It broke my heart.

online: You have been injured by big cats. Did that ever make you question your hands-on involvement?

Tippi: No. They're all different; you might trust one, but not the other one. If one injures me, I might not work with it any more. It might respond better to someone else.

online: Have conditions improved for performing animals in recent years?

Tippi: Yes, very definitely they have; there are things that are not allowed anymore, especially with horses. They'd run horses off cliffs! Trip wires - all those things. That's not allowed any more. There have been trainers in California who were kicked out of the business because they were so cruel to the animals!

online: Who was instrumental in changing that?

Tippi: Actually, most of that change was initiated by other trainers who felt cruelty just wasn't right.

online: You must have seen your share of abused animals.

Tippi: That makes me think of a lion who was with us for twenty-two years. His name was Boomer. He'd been castrated, de-clawed and his eyeteeth had been removed; he never grew a mane because of the hormone problems after the castration. Even after all of that, Boomer still liked people. He never hurt anybody. I don't feel there's a difference… I don't think: "That's an animal. That's a human." I feel that the animal is a thinking, feeling being. Yes, he's different… he's different than I. He has his own personality traits, his own insecurities, his own social situations within his species and he's another being. 

online: Who do you hold responsible for the horror stories like polar bears doing tricks in a Mexican circus or being kept in miserable and poor conditions? Is it greed of the owner, the curiosity of the public, or a combination of things that allows a situation like this to exist?

Tippi: I think it's the greed of the owners and the terribly misguided delight of people who think this is charming or funny. People need to be educated. I don't know what kind of a situation we could put humans into that would be analogous to it. There simply are people who think that animals are to be used… they are used to be eaten, they are used to be hunted… and it's misguided.

Tippi Hedrenonline: When I was a kid, our parents took us to see the circus. It was a big deal. Has that mindset changed?

Tippi: I think it is changing, but not quickly enough. We do our best at Shambala to see that it is changed. I hear people say, in regard to circuses, "I want my kids to see these animals." This is not the way that any child should see animals, being abused! There is never a tiger in the world who wants to jump through hoops of fire. Never! Some people are viewing these animals and wanting these animals to be what they want them to be…that's what a circus is all about.

KuraAs an example, the beautiful elephant Kura, who has lived in Shambala since 1978, was taught to sit up, to stand on her head and to dance around with girls or lions or tigers on her back. You know, she has never sat up, never stood on her head or never danced since she came to us. The elephant is a very gentle giant, and a very intelligent being. They will put up with that incredible abuse for just so long, and then they will retaliate, or go berserk. It's sad… they have to go crazy, and then they're called a bad animal. Take any human and confine them for doing nothing wrong and that human will go crazy. This is not right.

online: You have been able, in part, to use your fame to promote the cause of a very specific group of animals that live at Shambala. Do you do any public education there?

Tippi: Yes, we do. Every time we have a "safari" we educate, but we do it in a way so that everybody has fun with it. They learn something and it's an enjoyable time for them, but at the same time they're getting some really good information about the animals in captivity, the animals in the wild and about what they can do to help the situation. We discuss animal issues that are current in the world. 

online: Your life's work has grown from a very different seed. The knowledge that you've gained isn't always easy, is it?

Tippi: Once you become involved with the animal community… the deeper it goes. You learn more about the animals and you learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against animals. One thing that keeps me sane is to know that I can only help a few of them. I can't help them all. Now that we're networking with the American Sanctuary Association, there's another thing to keep me sane! Now animals won't be bred or sold or traded, and these issues will be attended to as they need to be attended to, because they're out of hand. Keeping these animals as pets is outrageous! It's also a public safety issue. You'll see someone keeping a lion or a tiger in a yard, taking them for a walk out in the street… that's just not okay!

online: I have to ask you… do you like birds?

Tippi: I love birds! (laughs). There are birds living around the lake at the preserve. We have ravens at Shambala all the time! They steal meat from the cats, and they're pretty happy. They're beautiful.

online: Which animal do you most identify with?

Tippi: Probably the tiger. I'm a loner.

online: You have a couple of causes that you're very active in. One of them is the pet trade in exotic animals… You're trying to get legislation enacted right now. For anyone who wants to help, how would they do so?

Tippi HedrenTippi: The issue is that lions, tigers, leopards and mountain lions are being bred illegally. I stress illegally. I am not talking about scientific breeding programs. I'm talking about the people who are breeding these animals to be pets. They sell these animals to other people, who are not informed. Those of us involved in this issue are getting calls every day from people who are still able to buy these animals as pets. We need you to write to us at our web site so that we can gather the letters and forward them to our congressman. Tell us how you feel about these animals being kept as pets, if you know of anybody who is selling them, if you know where they are, and then we can compile the information. There are a number of these facilities in the mid-west. There are only five states with laws against this.

online: The legislation also includes something called "the canned hunt." This is a despicable thing, in which wild animals such as lions and tigers are led before a group of hunters on a leash, shot and killed.

Tippi: Yes, the proposed legislation includes the canned hunt. Frequently, the "wild" animals are old or sick.  Often they have been tranquilized so they don't even move. That is how many unwanted "pet" lives end.

online: What have you learned from them about the concept of "wild"? What is "wild"?

Tippi: I don't know if we should even call it wild. This is who they are and what they should be. They have their own societies and in those societies, they live together… they do things with or for each other. Yes, some are the predators that have to eat, but they keep the balance. They each have their place. As an example, you see baboons at the top of the tree eating pods. They eat the seeds and they drop the pods, and there at the bottom of the trees are the little impalas waiting for the pods to fall. Everything works in their world. There's a beauty to that.

 There is a place where there is peace and harmony for all beings, animal and human. The California sun rises over cottonwood trees and glistens on a lake where elephants sleep. As fingers of gold paint the desert sky, the lion roars. He shouts, "N'chi ya nani? Yangu! Yangu! Yangu! Whose land is this? Mine! Mine! MINE!

For those who are lucky the road has ended at Shambala, where the light of Tippi Hedren shines… like a star.

Shambala Web Site



The Shambala Web Site

Send any letters of support for legislation against the exotic pet trade to Tippi Hedren at:

The Roar Foundation,
PO Box 189,
Acton, CA 93510.

or send an email to:


The Interview

Tippi Hedren was the special guest speaker at the IWRC Banquet on Saturday night, October 16, 1998.  In spite of a very hectic schedule,  she graciously agreed to this interview - at 11:30 PM, Saturday night! The interview was conducted by Joe MacLeod and Jane Schnelker.  Joe MacLeod said:

"Ms. Hedren's presentation was ample evidence of her dedication to her chosen career.  She gave up a promising, and extremely successful movie career to pursue something that was compelling and important to her.  Her book, The Cats of Shambala, speaks of incredible devotion and commitment. She gave up her career, her properties, and most other worldly goods to help mitigate what she perceived as terrible injustices to the large cats that were being used as pets, circus performers, and the toys of unscrupulous or misinformed people. 

Tippi and the interviewer"Ms. Hedren is a very lovely, charming, and charismatic lady, and she has a large and dedicated group of followers and well-wishers. She is always ready to spend time with people, to explain the situation of the big cats, of the pet trade, and of the canned hunt.  Jane and I had to run a gauntlet of well-wishers in order to get Ms. Hedren out to the quiet area that we called "The Depression" - a little conversation pit off the main hotel lobby.  As luck would have it,   as soon as we sat down to conduct the interview,  we were interrupted by children playing (what were they doing up at this hour?) and a very bad piano player in the main lobby.  Trooper that she is,  Ms. Hedren carried on in spite of the interruptions! 

"After the 'formal' interview,  we were joined by Chris Byrne from Black Beauty Ranch, Penny Elliston from the Online development group, and John Huckabee, veterinarian with PAWS in Seattle.  A lively conversation carried on into the wee hours of the morning.

"You have to see Ms. Hedren in an interview!  Her devotion and commitment are written all over her face, and evident in her body language.  As she talked about things that upset her, like the canned hunt and the pet trade, her finger punctuated the air like a missile as she made her point.  When she talked about the animals of Shambala she was instantly calmed.  So were we. 

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain,
With the rain in Shambala.
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame,
With the rain in Shambala.

"Good luck Tippi"!


Astrid MacLeod:

Interview questions, transcription, editing
Jane Schnelker: Photos
William Blake: "Tyger" quote.
Daniel Moore (and Three Dog Night): "Shambala" quote
Thanks to Lee Watt and Ed Clark for interview arrangements.