Four-year-old Poppaea Aldridge decided it was much better to give money for the benefit of wildlife than to have presents on her birthday.

So the pupil at St Joseph’s Primary School last week handed over a cheque for £200 to Dr Debbie Young, of the African Elephant Research Unit at the Knysna Elephant Park in South Africa.

The youngster had visited the park with her parents, Andrew and Chrissie, on several occasions since she was a toddler, and developed a friendship with male elephant Mashudu, who is the same age as she is.

Mr Aldridge, a partner in Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers, said: “It was a truly magical day.

“We walked with the elephants, which members of the public can’t usually do.

“When Mashudu saw Poppaea he came straight over to her and gave her his trunk to stroke.

“It was an experience that money can’t buy.

“It was Poppaea’s idea to ask people to give money to the elephants in lieu of presents. I don’t know too many four-year-olds who would do that.”

In return for her gift, Poppaea was made an honorary elephant researcher.

Dr Young said: “She is a real conservationist in the making and we are already looking forward to her next visit.”