After the death of her mother, Princess Grace, "I said, 'You have a place in this world, you just have to find it,'" the royal tells Point de Vue

By Peter Mikelbank
Updated October 08, 2015 12:15 PM
Credit: Francis Apesteguy/Getty

Many people – including royals! – have rescue dogs. Monaco’s Princess Stephanie has rescue elephants.

Baby and Nepal are two retired circus elephants with an incredible tale: The female Asian elephants had been living in a zoo in Lyon, France, when they were condemned to be euthanized following a possible exposure to tuberculosis. After a protracted legal battle, the elephants were saved by the princess, who offered to give them a safe haven.

“When I tell you that Baby and Nepal arrived at the right moment in my life, I firmly believe it,” Stephanie, 50, says in a new interview with France’s Point de Vue.

In the extensive interview, Stephanie also speaks about the 1982 car crash that killed her mother, Princess Grace. (Stephanie was also in the car.) “After I got over my anger, got past the sense of injustice that was inside me, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I said, ‘Wait! Logically, you should have died too,’ ” she says. ” ‘If I was kept alive it was for a reason. You have a place in this world. You have to find it.’ ”

And in an unlikely twist, the elephants have helped her do just that. Two years after Stephanie rescued them, Baby, 42, and Nepal, 43, are still living happily at Fontbonne Reserve in France atop a mountain overlooking Monaco, which is just 15 minutes away.

The reserve features 100 acres of trees, brush and mountain cliffs, which one recent visitor describes to PEOPLE as “savannah-like. You know you’re in the south of France, but you feel like you’re somewhere else. There’s the blue of the Mediterranean below you and there’s pine and oak forest around, but you really feel as though you are in Africa or an Asian plain.”

The comparison isn’t lost on the princess. Since adopting the elephants she has reclaimed the site, building modern stables, installing a team of experienced “mahouts” (elephant handlers), veterinarian services and gardeners. “I take care of the elephants,” she told Point du Vue, “and also of the property, which belongs to my brother, Prince Albert II. I love this place.”

“This space is truly soothing, so serene,” she adds. “It is a world apart.”

The head of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo, Stephanie has long shared her father Prince Rainier’s love of the circus and animals.

After the elephants’ arrival, “I stayed with them every day,” says the hands-on princess, who is in the pens everyday helping with the animals’ care. (Yes, even the shoveling.) “Watching, slowly began to recognize signs which showed that a true trust, mutual respect, was settling in between us. This requires a lot of patience.

“Asian elephants have always worked with people and they like company. We sensed right away that Baby and Nepal demanded contact.”

The mother of three grown children is adamant, spiritual even, explaining how the elephant adoption had transformed her life. “Every mother in the world knows this feeling one day . . . of emptiness, a time comes where you feel a little less useful because you’re no longer running left and right. Life no longer has the same rhythm.

“There’s a peace here, a contagious serenity. Since I’ve been spending my days here, everything seems easier to manage.”

Baby and Nepal “have taught me so much about myself,” said the royal, who is also a passionate activist for Fight AIDS Monaco. “I’m no longer the same. Everyone said this story was doomed to fail, and I’m terribly proud of having saved these elephants. But through it, I felt I was showing my children that we should not be afraid to fight, that the important thing is to always believe in what is fair.”

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