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A feral child (also called wild child) is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, where they have little or no experience of human care, behavior, or, crucially, of human language. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents). Feral children may have experienced severe abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends, typically portrayed as having been raised by animals.
- 1 Description
- 2 History
- 3 Documented cases of feral children
- 4 Alleged cases of feral children
- 5 Raised in confinement
- 6 Hoaxes
- 7 Legend, fiction, and popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 References and notes
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
Feral children lack the basic social skills that are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright after walking on fours all their lives, or display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language. The impaired ability to learn a natural language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning, and taken as evidence in favor of the critical period hypothesis.
There is little scientific knowledge about feral children. One of the best-documented cases has supposedly been that of sisters Amala and Kamala, described by Reverend J. A. L. Singh in 1926 as having been "raised by wolves" in a forest in India. French surgeon Serge Aroles, however, has persuasively argued that the case was a fraud, perpetrated by Singh in order to raise money for his orphanage. Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim states that Amala and Kamala were born mentally and physically disabled. Yet other scientific studies of feral children exist, such as the case of Genie.
Around the 20th century, psychologists were attempting to differentiate between behavior and biological culture. Feral children who lived in isolation or with animals provided examples of this dilemma.
Prior to the 1600s, feral and wild children stories were usually limited to myths and legends. In those tales, the depiction of feral children included hunting for food, running on all fours, and not knowing language. Philosophers and scientists were infatuated with such children, and began to question if these children were part of a different species from the human family.
The question was taken seriously as science tried to name and categorize the development of humans, and the understanding of the natural world in the 18th and 19th century.
Documented cases of feral children
Raised by primates
Marina Chapman lived with weeper capuchin monkeys in the Colombian jungle from the age of four to about nine, following a botched kidnapping in about 1954. Unusual for feral children, she went on to marry, have children and live a largely normal life with no persisting problems.
Robert (1982) lost his parents in the Ugandan Civil War at the age of three, when Milton Obote's looting and murdering soldiers raided their village, around 50 miles (80 km) from Kampala. Robert then survived in the wild, presumably with vervet monkeys, for three years until he was found by soldiers.
Saturday Mthiyane (or Mifune) (1987), a boy of around five, was found after spending about a year in the company of monkeys in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He was given the name Saturday after the day he was found, and Mthiyane was the name of the headmistress of the Special School which took him in. In 2005, at the age of around 17, he could still not talk, and still walked and jumped like a monkey. He never ate cooked food and refused to share or play with other children.
John Ssebunya, from Uganda, was a toddler when his mother died. Instead of going into a care facility, he went to live with vervet monkeys. For two years he learned how to forage and travel. The monkeys protected him in the wild. When he was around seven years old, he was bought back to civilization. The only form of communication he could do was cry, and he was described as always wanting food. Some considered him “wild” and “scary.” 
Raised by wolves
Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja (ca. 1946, Sierra Morena, Spain) lived for 12 years with wolves in the mountains of Southern Spain. He was discovered at age 19. Rodríguez's story was depicted in the 2010 Spanish-German film Entrelobos. For his portrayal of Rodríguez, young actor Manuel Camacho received a Best New Actor nomination at the 2011 Goya Awards.
Raised by dogs
Oxana Malaya was an eight-year-old girl who lived with dogs for six years. She was found in a kennel with dogs in 1991. She was neglected by her parents who were alcoholics. The three-year-old looking for comfort crawled into the farm and snuggled in with the dogs. Her behavior imitated dogs more than humans. She walked on all fours, bared her teeth, and barked. As she lacked human contact she did not know any words besides "yes" and "no". Upon adulthood, Oxana has been taught to subdue her dog-like behavior. She learned to speak fluently and intelligently and works at the farm milking cows, but remains somewhat intellectually impaired.
Ivan Mishukov, a six-year-old boy was rescued by the police in 1998 from wild dogs, who he lived with for two years. He ran from his mother and her abusive alcoholic boyfriend at the age of four. He earned the dogs' trust by giving them food and in return the dogs protected him. The boy had risen to being "alpha male" of the pack. When the police found him, they set a trap for him and the dogs by leaving food in a restaurant kitchen. Because he had lived among the dogs for only two years, he relearned language fairly rapidly. He studied in military school and served in the Russian Army.
A 10-year-old Chilean boy (Dog Boy) was abandoned by his parents, lived with street dogs who hunted for food with him, and may have nursed him. At the age of five, the boy was abandoned by his parents and escaped a child care facility with 15 street dogs. The boy lived in a cave with the stray dogs and searched for food with them. He would search garbage cans to find leftover food to eat. He was raised by dogs since he was little. In 2001 he was found by the police, and he tried to escape by going into the water. However, he was caught and hospitalized.
Traian Căldărar, Romania (found in 2002) also known as "the Romanian Dog Boy" or "Mowgli". Since the age of four he had lived without his family for three years. The boy was found at the age of seven and was described as a three-year-old due to not having the right amount of nutrition. His mother had left her home because of domestic violence, and Traian ran from home sometime after his mother left. He lived in the wild and took shelter in a cardboard box. He suffered from infected wounds, having poor circulation, and a children’s disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. Traian was found by Manolescu Ioan, who had been walking across the country after his car broke down. In the surrounding area a dog that had been eaten was also found. Many assume that the boy was eating the dog to stay alive. When Traian was being cared for, he would usually sleep under the bed and wanted to eat all the time. In 2007, Traian was being taken care of by his grandfather and was doing well in 3rd grade at school. Now he is a normal child who likes football and mathematics.
Andrei Tolstyk (2004) was brought up by dogs from the age of three months and was found living by a remote part of Siberia seven years after he was neglected by his parents. As he had speaking and hearing problem from birth. Social workers who found the boy were curious about why the boy was not admitted to his local school. This boy was not able to talk as he lacked human interaction and had many dog-like characteristics including walking on all fours, biting people, and sniffing his food before eating.
Madina a three year old girl lived with dogs from birth till she was three years old. She slept with them in the cold, ate food with them, and played with them. Her father left her after she was born, and her mother became an alcoholic. She never looked after Madina since she was always too drunk and Madina would chew on bones from the floor with the dogs. When social workers found Madina in 2013, she acted like dogs and was not wearing any clothes. Madina was being taken care of and the doctors said that she was mentally and physically healthy even though after what she had gone through.
Raised by bears
The three Lithuanian bear-boys (1657, 1669, 1694):21–28 – Serge Aroles shows from the archives of the Queen of Poland (1664–1688) that these are false. There was only one boy, found in the forests in spring 1663 and then brought to Poland's capital.:196
Raised with sheep
An Irish boy brought up by sheep, reported by Nicolaes Tulp in his book Observationes Medicae (1672).:20–1 Serge Aroles gives evidence that this boy was severely disabled and exhibited for money.:199–201
A fourteen-year-old boy also known as the sheep boy, was found in the former Soviet Union living in a sheep flock. He was raised by sheep for 8 years. He had no communication skills and could not use the toilet. His parents left to find work and was left with his grandmother. His grandmother took care of him until she passed away.
Raised with cattle
Raised by goats
Daniel, Andes Goat Boy (1990) lived in the wild for about 8 years. He was discovered in the mountains of Peru and was raised by goats. He walked and ran on all fours with the mountain goats. He drank goat's milk, ate berries, and roots.
Raised by ostriches
The "ostrich boy" – A boy named Hadara was lost by his parents in the Sahara desert at the age of two, and was adopted by ostriches. At the age of 12, he was rescued and taken back to society and his parents. He later married and had children. The story of Hadara is often told in west Sahara. In 2000, Hadara's son Ahmedu told his father's story to the Swedish author Monica Zak, who compiled it to a book. The book is a mixture of the stories told by Ahmedu and Zak's own fantasy.
Other documented cases
Marie-Angelique Memmie Le Blanc, the Wild girl of Songi, also known as the Wild Girls of Champagne. She was about 9 or 10 year-old, and was first spotted in the village of Songi in 1731. After giving a hard time she was captured and taken to a kitchen. She flew at the dead birds and teared one apart while eating it. She was baptized in 1732. She learned French in 10 years. She said that she was painted on with black paint and sold as a slave. She was beaten up if she did not work. She and a black girl were left to survive on their own. Their ship sank, Memmie had to help herself and the other girl get to land. They traveled a lot on land and ate whatever they found. They looked for prey to eat. The other girl got hurt and Mammie found a frog, ripped of its skin, and applied it to her hand. After this both took separate routes. Memmie took the path to Songi as the other one went back to the river.
Hany Istók (a.k.a. Steve of the Marsh) of Kapuvár, Hungary (1749). According to documents stored at the Catholic parish of Kapuvár, an abandoned child was once found in a marshy lakeside forest by two fishermen. He was brought to the town of Kapuvár, where he was christened and received the name Steven. The local governor took him to his castle and tried to raised him up, but the boy eventually escaped and ran back to the forest. Later, numerous folk tales developed around his character, depicting him as a "half fish, half human creature" who lived in a nearby lake.
Ramachandra (1970s and 1980s) – First reported in 1973 in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, at roughly 12 years old, and as living an amphibian lifestyle in the Kuano river. He was rescued in 1979 and taken to a nearby village. He only partly adapted to a conventional lifestyle, still preferring raw food, walking with an awkward gait, and spending most of his time alone in nearby rivers and streams. He died in 1982 after approaching a woman who was frightened by him, and who badly scalded Ramachandra with boiling water. Historian Mike Dash speculates that Ramachandra's uncharacteristically bold approach to the woman was sparked by a burgeoning sexual attraction coupled with his ignorance of cultural mores and taboos.
Alleged cases of feral children
Raised by pumas
Vicente Caucau (1948) – Chilean boy found in a savage state at age 12, allegedly raised by pumas.
Raised with sheep
The historian Herodotus wrote that Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus I (Psamtik) sought to discover the origin of language by conducting an experiment with two children. Allegedly, he gave two newborn babies to a shepherd, with the instructions that no one should speak to them, but that the shepherd should feed and care for them while listening to determine their first words. The hypothesis was that the first word would be uttered in the root language of all people. When one of the children cried “bekos” (a sound quite similar to the bleating of sheep) with outstretched arms the shepherd concluded that the word was Phrygian because that was the sound of the Phrygian word for bread. Thus, they concluded that the Phrygians were an older people than the Egyptians.
Other alleged cases
Raised in confinement
Danielle Crockett, Plant City, Florida, United States (2007–2008) – Dani had been locked in her room and deprived of human interaction for the first 7 years of her life. She was found and adopted and is currently undergoing efforts to acclimate her to human conditioning including learning English and effective communication.
Vanya Yudin, ("Russian bird boy"), Russia, (2008) – A seven-year-old boy was found who spent his entire life living in a tiny two bedroom apartment surrounded by birds. His mother never spoke to him and treated him as a pet, and when found he was unable to communicate except for chirping and flapping his arms like wings.
Natasha, Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia (2009) – A five-year-old girl who spent her entire life locked in a room with cats and dogs, and no heat, water, or sewage system. When she was found, she could not speak, would jump at the door and bark as caretakers left, and had "clear attributes of an animal".
Sujit Kumar (1979) – named the “Chicken Boy of Fiji” by the media, was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Sujit's mother committed suicide when he was a toddler and his father left him confined under the house to live with the chickens. Sujit was rescued while still a boy and committed to the Samabula Old People’s Home where he was confined to his room and tied to his bed. He could not speak and his only verbalisation was clucking; his only interaction with people consisted of outbursts. Sujit remained at the old people’s home for 20 years until he was found by Elizabeth Clayton, a wealthy businesswoman who founded the Happy Home Trust to care for Sujit and other at risk Fijian children. Sujit’s behaviour has improved, but he will never learn to speak and he remains profoundly disabled.
Isabelle (1938) was almost seven years old when she was discovered. She had spent the first years of her life isolated in a dark room with her deaf-mute mother as her only contact. Only seven months later, she had learned a vocabulary of around 1,500 to 2,000 words. She is reported to have acquired normal linguistic abilities.
Anna (1938) - Anna was six years old when she was found, having been kept in a dark room for most of her life. She was born in March 1932 in Pennsylvania, United States. She was her mother’s second illegitimate child. Her mother had tried to give Anna up for several months but no agency was willing to take the financial burden, as this was during the Great Depression. Anna was kept in a store room at least until she was five and half, out of the way of her disapproving grandfather, who was infuriated by her presence. Her mother also resented her, considering her troublesome. She was tied to a broken chair which was too small for her, and is believed to have also been tied to a cot for long periods of time. She was mostly fed milk and was never bathed, trained, or caressed by anyone. When she was found, she was suffering from malnutrition as well as muscle atrophy. She was immobile, expressionless, and indifferent to everything. She was believed to be deaf as she did not respond to others (later it was found that her deafness was functional rather than physical). She could not talk, walk, feed herself, or do anything that showed signs of cognition. Once she was taken away and placed in a foster home, she showed signs of improvement. At the age of nine she began to develop speech. She had started to conform to social norms and was able to feed herself, though only using a spoon. Her teachers described her as having a pleasant disposition. Anna passed away in August 1942 of hemorrhagic jaundice.
Following the 2008 disclosure by Belgian newspaper Le Soir that the bestselling book Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years and movie Survivre avec les loups (“Surviving with Wolves”) was a media hoax, the French media debated the credulity with which numerous cases of feral children have been unquestioningly accepted. Although there are numerous books on these children, almost none of them have been based on archives; the authors instead have used dubious second- or third-hand printed information. According to the French surgeon Serge Aroles, who wrote a general study of feral children based on archives (L’Enigme des Enfants-loups or The Enigma of Wolf-children, 2007), many alleged cases are totally fictitious stories:
- The teenager of Kronstadt (1781):49–55 – According to the Hungarian document published by Serge Aroles, this case is a hoax: the boy, mentally handicapped, had a goitre and was exhibited for money.
- Victor of Aveyron (1797) – Portrayed in the 1969 movie, The Wild Child (L'Enfant sauvage), by François Truffaut.:55–63 Once more, Serge Aroles gives evidence in this famous case indicating that Victor does not match the description of a genuine feral child.
- Syrian Gazelle Boy (1946) – A boy aged around 10 was reported to have been found in the midst of a herd of gazelles in the Syrian desert in the 1950s, and was only rescued with the help of an Iraqi army jeep, because he could run at speeds of up to 50 km/h. However, it was a hoax, as are the other gazelle-boy cases.
- Amala and Kamala – Claimed to have been found in 1920 by missionaries near Midnapore, Calcutta region, India, later proved to be a hoax to gain charity for Rev. Singh's orphanage.:104–113 Scholars from Japan and France launched a new inquiry about Amala and Kamala, and validated the discoveries and conclusions done by Serge Aroles 20 years before: the story was a hoax.
- Ramu, Lucknow, India, (1954) – A girl taken by a wolf as a baby, and raised in the jungle until the age of seven. Aroles made inquiries on the scene and classifies this as another hoax.
- The bear-girl of Krupina, Slovakia (1767):48–9 – Serge Aroles found no traces of her in the Krupina archives.
Legend, fiction, and popular culture
Myths, legends, and fiction have depicted feral children reared by wild animals such as wolves, apes, monkeys, and bears. Famous examples include Romulus and Remus, Ibn Tufail’s Hayy, Ibn al-Nafis’ Kamil, Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan, George of the Jungle and the legends of Atalanta and Enkidu.
Roman legend has it that Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars, were suckled by a she-wolf. Rhea Silvia was a priestess, and when it was found that she had been pregnant and had children, King Amulius, who had usurped his brother's throne, ordered her to be buried alive and for the children to be killed. The servant who was given the order set them in a basket on the Tiber river instead, and the children were taken by Tiberinus, the river god, to the shore where a she-wolf found them and raised them until they were discovered as toddlers by a shepherd named Faustulus. He and his wife Acca Larentia, who had always wanted a child but never had one, raised the twins, who would later feature prominently in the events leading up to the founding of Rome (named after Romulus, who eventually killed Remus in a fight over whether the city should be founded on the Palatine Hill or the Aventine Hill).
Legendary and fictional children are often depicted as growing up with relatively normal human intelligence and skills and an innate sense of culture or civilization, coupled with a healthy dose of survival instincts. Their integration into human society is made to seem relatively easy. One notable exception is Mowgli, for whom living with humans proved to be extremely difficult.
The subject is treated with a certain amount of realism in François Truffaut’s 1970 film L’Enfant Sauvage (UK: The Wild Boy, US: The Wild Child), where a scientist’s efforts in trying to rehabilitate a feral boy meet with great difficulty.
- Child development
- Cognitive ethology
- Language deprivation experiments
- Psychogenic dwarfism
- Street child
- Wild man
References and notes
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