Dali Had An Ocelot

Who are some well-known historic figures with unusual to alarming animal friends?



Audrey Hepburn’s Fawn

In the 1959 film ‘Green Mansions’, Audrey Hepburn plays Rima, a ‘Bird Girl’ who lives in the forest. Green Mansions was less than a hit, but in the film – and in real life to strengthen the bond – Hepburn befriended a young fawn named Pippin, ‘Ip’ for short.

During filming, Audrey fed Ip from a baby bottle, brought her grocery shopping, took her to fancy parties, and cuddled her at night. Hepburn was so distraught to let the fawn go after filming, her husband later – at a particularly difficult time in Hepburn’s life – located Ip and brought the deer back to their house to live.


Lord Byron’s Bear

The animal-loving Romantic poet George Gordon Byron was annoyed to hear that students were not allowed to house dogs at Cambridge’s Trinity College. Ever the rebel, Byron found another roommate. As he wrote in an 1807 letter to his pen pal Elizabeth Bridget Pigot: ‘I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear. When I brought him here, they asked me what to do with him, and my reply was: ‘he should sit for a fellowship.’


Salvador Dali
Also falling hard in the ‘don’t try this at home’ camp is Salvador Dali and his ocelot. The oft-protected ocelot, the World Animal Foundation tells us: ‘is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. They will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes.’ National Geographic continues: ‘Like other cats, ocelots are adapted for eating meat. They have pointed fangs used to deliver a killing bite, and sharp back teeth that can tear food like scissors. Ocelots do not have teeth appropriate for chewing, so they tear their food to pieces and swallow it whole.’

Dali, nevertheless, took his Columbian ocelot Babou with the bestoned collar on walks, to restaurants, and on cruises.



Elvis Presley’s Mynah Bird

‘You ain’t nothin but a..’ Yes, Elvis did have a hound dog. A basset hound named Sherlock. An ardent animal lover, Elvis also lived with Brutus and Snoopy the Great Danes, Get Lo – a Chow, Bowtie the turkey, Scatter the willful chimpanzee.

It was one of Elvis’ mynah birds, however, that set him into fits of laughter. Out of the blue, the chatty bird would go off on a riff, repeating all the excuses as to why Elvis couldn’t entertain visitors, or come to the phone. “Elvis is asleep. Elvis isn’t here. Elvis isn’t available. Elvis isn’t home right now.” And again: “Elvis is asleep. Elvis isn’t here. Elvis isn’t available. Elvis isn’t home right now.”


Mozart’s Musical Starling

It’s not clear who should feel more melodic pressure – the songbird or the musical prodigy. As it turns out, the two got along famously. Mozart bought Vogelstar, so named for the German species name, in 1784.

When the bird-loving Mozart visited the pet shop, Vogelstar is said to have astonished him by whistling the theme to his Piano Concerto in G Major, K.453. But how? Few people had yet heard this not-yet publicly performed piece that Mozart had completed but one month earlier. One theory? That Mozart had hummed the motif in a previous visit to the store, and Vogelstar – being a starling with extraordinary mimicry skills and, presumably, impeccable timing or powerful facial recognition skills – fed it back. Mozart even forgave his new companion for replacing his G natural with a G sharp.

Mozart and Vogelstar lived together for three years until the starling passed, tragically just one week after Mozart’s father.


Tippi Hedren
In hearing the name ‘Tippi Hedren’, many think of her star turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. Hedren is, however, a serious animal rights activist with a particular affinity for lions.

As we see from this 1970s Life Magazine photoshoot, the co-living arrangements were alarming. As Tippi herself said later:  “I cringe when I see those pictures now. I have to tell you we were stupid beyond belief. We should never have taken those risks.”

Life Magazine Photographer Michael Rougier took these remarkable and terrifying photos in 1971.


Tippi Hedren + Pet Lion Neil


Daughter Melanie Griffith + Neil


As Hedren’s granddaughter Dakota Johnson explained on the Graham Norton show, Hedren no longer lives with lions in the house.

In her nineties, Tippi Hedren is still passionate about lions, however, and oversees the Shambala Preserve, where they ‘educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals’ and offer true sanctuary to confiscated or abandoned exotic felines and African elephants. ‘Our only purpose is to allow these magnificent animals to live out their lives with care, understanding and dignity. Each has the best human, nutritional, medical, emotional and mental care possible.’


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Lilibet, Elsa, or Zibby


All Cloaks, Few Daggers

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton