Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Gentle Jungle by Toni Ringo Helfer

I've posted lately about new books and authors I have discovered. Some of my favorite books of all time have gone unmentioned here, something I would like to rectify:

The Gentle Jungle by Toni Ringo Helfer has been a favorite book of mine since I first discovered it back around 1986. An abridged version was published by Scholastic in 1981, and the copy which fell into my possession had already seen much love in the school system. Many years later, with the help of the internet, I became the proud owner of the unabridged original.
Long out of print, it doesn't matter which copy you read; Each version tells the poignant, touching true story of an every day woman's walk into an extraordinary world.

Toni Ringo met, and married Hollywood's premier animal trainer. She learned how to lead elephants, train big cats, make friends with monkeys and be a tree for a snake. Toni found herself on the cover of TV Guide one time, and changing chimpanzee diapers another. These are the stories she tells in a humorous fashion, similar to James Herriot's tales of veterinary life. Tragedy strikes, as well, when animals age or nature comes into play, giving her tale the full circle of life.

This book has made me laugh, and cry many times over the years. I read it and always feel as if Toni is my close personal friend. Her story is one that I give to my friends to read, and turn to myself again and again. While the book ends well, I've often wondered what happened to the author. Ralph Helfer, her husband, can be found online. He lives in Africa now, and gives tours of the region he now calls home. One of the pictures shows him with a woman who is not Toni Ringo Helfer. This makes me sad, as does the fact that I have found no other mention of her online outside of links like the one to Alibris above. If indeed, such a remarkable person has passed on, then she can look down from above and be proud of her Gentle legacy.


  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger Christopher said…

    Toni Ringo Law is alive and well, married to former actor Christopher Law. They lead Safaris to Africa, most recently with Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken soup for the soul)and Robert Allen (Nothing Down) NY Times best selling authors and their Inner Circle. Daughter Tana and granddaughters Tiva, Rian and Savanah live in Karen, Kenya. Our special non-profit is
    For Safari information email safari@bigplanet.com

  • At 1:14 PM, Blogger SweetJen said…

    Oh, nice to know she's still around. This is a wonderful book, and until now, I didn't know anyone else was a fan.

  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger Earthangel said…

    I am glad to hear of this book, and am going to buy it! Thanks for mentioning it. I am glad to know Toni is alive and well.

  • At 8:06 AM, Blogger JEppe said…

    I came a long webb-way trying to learn about Highland Dale. I was so sad to read about Toni's story about "Fury", though the end was happy. Then I found out, that King was not the real Fury. It is sad anyhow that any horse should suffer like King had to.
    But, I just love the internet ;o)
    it is possible to get lost into so interesting information. And I have to find Toni's book now.

  • At 2:36 PM, Blogger Becky said…

    If you are interested in hearing more about the great stories that Ralph has written I recommend two great books
    Modoc and Zamba (You should read Modoc first). Modoc is an elephant and Zamba is a lion. Great stories about living with and affection traing to awesome animals and how it changed Ralph, Toni and Tana's lives.

  • At 8:00 PM, Blogger Ally said…

    In the early 80's I took a course on affection training at the Gentle Jungle when the compound was at Lion Country Safari. It was a real experience. I too have the book and love it.

  • At 4:48 AM, Blogger Julie @ jublie's blog said…

    Her daughter Tana just started her own blog about life in Kenya. Excellent work. Truly fabulous stories.


    Come and visit. You'll love the stories.

  • At 4:47 AM, Blogger Janelle said…

    I got this book as a young girl and read it with such delight. I so wanted to be Toni that I wrote her a letter asking her how I could learn to do what she does. She wrote me back with lots of ideas. Sadly I never went down that road, but that book will always be so special to me. I was cleaning out my closet and just now found it and sat down to Google Toni and found this post. Now I'm passing the book on to my children.

  • At 7:23 PM, Blogger shannonm said…

    This is incredible. I worked with Toni and Ralph at Enchanted Village when Gentle Jungle was on the board in 1976. I took the exotic animal handling and affection training class and was an animal handler outside of work and on weekends. It is magical to realize I can perhaps see Toni after all these years. My favorite memories are Toni making the elephants laugh, and watching us all cry with laughter seeing Doc the chimp dressed up as a dog for the TV series "Battlestar Galactica". Which, to this day, I have not seen. I've not owned a TV since 1972. wow.
    Thank you.

  • At 4:58 PM, Blogger donhaar said…

    Hello Shannon, I also attended the Affection Training classes and worked at Enchanted Village in 1976. I did the camel rides with Ralph (the camel, not the trainer!) and Louise. Great times, would love to get in touch with some of the friends I made and worked with back then!


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