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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 Documented or alleged cases
- 3 Hoaxes
- 4 Legend, fiction, and popular culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References and notes
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 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.
Documented or alleged cases
Raised by primates
- Marina Chapman – She lived with weeper capuchin monkeys in the Colombian jungle from the age of four to about nine, following a botched kidnapping in about 1954. Unusually for feral children, she went on to marry, have children and live a largely normal life with no persisting problems.
- Robert (1982) – The child 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.
- Baby Hospital (1984) – This seven-year-old girl was named Baby Hospital by an Italian missionary who found her in Sierra Leone. She had apparently been brought up by apes or monkeys. Baby Hospital was unable to stand upright and crawled instead of walking, and ate directly from her bowl without using her hands. She made the chattering noises of apes or monkeys. Baby Hospital's arms and hands were reported to be well developed, but not her leg muscles. She resisted attempts to civilize her, and spent much of her time crying: a very unusual form of expression for feral children.
- 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, Uganda (1991) – He was raised by monkeys for several years in the jungle.
- Bello, the Nigerian Chimp Boy (1996) – About two years of age, he was raised by chimpanzees for a year and a half.
- Ehsaas, Mowgli girl, Uttar Pradesh, India, January 2017 – A girl estimated to be aged 8 to 12 years old was spotted by woodcutters, emaciated and naked, roaming with monkeys in Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. They alerted police, who found her in the presence of three monkeys, and captured her despite resistance from the girl and the monkeys where the monkeys even pursued her abductors. Police took her to a hospital in Bahraich. She walked on all fours, had no language skills, ate directly with her mouth rather than using her hands, and was afraid of people. In April 2017, she was reported to have learned to walk upright. Conflicting reports at that time suggest she may have learned to understand speech, and may have begun to eat with her hands. It has not been revealed how the girl got into the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary.
Raised by wolves
- Hessian wolf-children:15–7 (1304, 1341 and 1344).
- Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja (ca. 1946, Sierra Morena, Spain) – He lived for 12 years with wolves until he was 19 in the mountains of Southern Spain. 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, Ukraine, (1990s) – A girl who bonded with dogs and imitated their behaviour. For five years, until she was 8 years old, Oxana Malaya was neglected by her alcoholic parents and lived with dogs. When she was found by state authorities she was not able to talk, ran around on all fours barking, slept on the floor, and ate and took care of her hygiene like a dog. 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 (1998) – Found near Moscow, raised by dogs for two years, and had risen to being "alpha male" of the pack. 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.
- Alex the Dog Boy (2001) – Found in Talcahuano, Chile.
- Traian Căldărar, Romania (2002) – Roma child born in Poland; he lived for three years with wild dogs in the wilderness. Now he is a normal child who likes football and mathematics.
- Andrei Tolstyk (2004) of Bespalovskoya, near Lake Baikal, Russia – Was abandoned by parents to be raised by a guard dog.
Raised by pumas
- Vicente Caucau (1948) – Chilean boy found in a savage state at age 12, allegedly raised by pumas.
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
- 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.
- 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
Raised with cattle
Raised by goats
- Daniel, Andes Goat Boy (1990) – Found in Peru and was said to have been raised by goats for eight years.
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.
Raised in confinement
- Genie – Discovered 1970 in Los Angeles. Confined to one room and abused by her father for 13 years.
- 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.
- Anna (1940) - 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.
Other feral children cases
- Hans of Liege.:19[clarification needed (folklore?)]
- The girl of Oranienburg (1717).:29–31
- The two Pyrenean boys (1719).:32
- Peter the Wild Boy of Hamelin (1724):32–41 – Mentally handicapped boy, affected with Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. He lived only one year in the wild.
- Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc, the Wild Girl of Songi, also known as the Wild Girl of Champagne, France (1731):41–48 – This is the only case of a child having survived 10 years in the forests (from November 1721 to September 1731), and the only feral child who succeeded in a complete intellectual rehabilitation, having learned to read and to write. According to biographer Serge Aroles, Marie-Angelique was 19 years old when she was captured, learned to read and write, and died on December 15, 1775 at the age of 63. An Amerindian from Wisconsin (then in French-claimed territory), she was brought to France by a lady living in Canada and then escaped into the woods of Provence in 1721.
- 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.
- Kaspar Hauser (early 19th century), portrayed in the 1974 Werner Herzog film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle).
- The Lobo Wolf Girl of Devil's River (1845) – A figure in Texas folklore, was captured in 1846, but escaped. She was last spotted at age 17 in 1852.
- 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.
- Cambodian jungle girl (2007) – Alleged to be Rochom P'ngieng, who lived 19 years in the Cambodian jungle. Other sources questioned these claims.
- Name Unknown, Uzbekistan, (2007) – Found after eight years.
- Ng Chhaidy, Theiva near Saiha, Mizoram, India (2012) – She went missing in a jungle aged four, returning 38 years later.
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.
- Saharan Gazelle Boy (1960) – Found in Rio de Oro in the Spanish Sahara, written about by Basque traveller Jean-Claude Auger, using the pseudonym Armen in his 1971 book L'enfant sauvage du grand desert, translated as Gazelle Boy. When Serge Aroles made inquiries concerning this case in 1997, gathering testimonies in Mauritania, Armen himself admitted that he had written "a book of fiction".
- 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.
Mythical children are often depicted as having superior strength, intelligence and morals compared to “normal” humans, the implication being that because of their upbringing they represent humanity in a pure and uncorrupted state, a notion similar to that of the noble savage.
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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- Bruno Bettelheim, "Feral Children and Autistic Children", The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 64, No. 5. (Mar., 1959), pp. 455-467.
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