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Friday, 6 December 2013

Wild Boys

The phenomena of 'Wild Boys' or 'Jungle Children' has fascinated people for centuries .... reports from Greeks, such as that by Athenian historian Apollodorus (168-88 BC), stated that the Greek heroine 'Atalanta' was abandoned by her father Iasus at birth because he desired a son. But went on to say that she was suckled by a She-Bear, until hunters later found her, and brought her up in their community (and that was before her adventures even started).

The Romans also listed accounts of 'feral children' in great numbers. The founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus for example, are the most famous of the feral children of ancient times. But the Roman historian Procopius recorded the first ‘true’ account of a feral child. He reported that a baby boy, abandoned by his mother around 250 AD, during the invasions of the Empire known as the 'Gothic wars', was found and suckled by a 'She-Goat'. When the local survivors returned to their homes, they found the boy living with his adopted 'mother' and named him Aegisthus. Procopius stated that he saw the child himself ..... and this interest in all things 'Feral' hasn't diminished since.

In fact so great is the interest in this subject, by peoples of every time, and almost every culture, that I could fill a whole blog with the reports - but here's just a brief flavour of the reported feral children. Understandably there is a lull in reports following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West (476 AD),  because general literacy rates collapsed at the same time - but when they started to recover outside of the clergy and aristocracy, in the Middle ages, reports started again:

In 1344, a seven-year-old 'Wolf-Boy' was supposedly captured from a wolf lair in the German state of Hesse (but the first published account didn’t appear until 1609), he had apparently recovered enough language to later describe his capture by wolves at approximately the age of three. They had he said, offered him the pick of the meat from hunting, carpeted a den pit with leaves to protect him from the cold, and made him run on all fours until he had reportedly 'attained their speed' and could make the most 'prodigious leaps'. After his capture, he frequently stated that he would rather associate with wolves than human beings - this last thought is apparently a common opinion amongst those 'Wild ones' who are forced back to live amongst men.

As a five-year-old during the religious wars (1562 - 1598), Jean de Liège took to the woods with fellow his villagers to flee violence, but when the fighting moved elsewhere, the other villagers returned home, but Jean remained in hiding for a further 16 years (like those Japanese soldiers at the end of WWII). In the wild, his senses had sharpened and he could scent “wholesome fruits or roots” at a great distance. When he was finally recaptured at the age of about 21, he was naked, “all overgrown with hair”, and incapable of speech. In human society, he learned to talk, but lost his acute sense of smell.

In 1696 a report published in Frankfurt by Phillipus Camerius, described both the 'Bamberg Calf-Child' and the 'Hesse Wolf Child' of 1344, who “had an extraordinary suppleness in his limbs and went on all fours with great agility. In this posture he would fight the largest dogs with his teeth, and attack them so intrepidly that he put them to flight. He was not, however, of a fierce nature.

In 1672, Nicholaus Tulp, a Dutch doctor (who was portrayed by Rembrandt in 'The Anatomy Lesson'), described the Irish Sheep-Boy. “There was brought to Amsterdam... a youth of 16 years, who being lost perhaps by his parents and brought up from his cradle amongst the wild sheep of Ireland, had acquired a sort of ovine nature. He was rapid in body, nimble of foot, of fierce countenance, firm flesh, scorched skin, rigid limbs, with retreating and depressed forehead, but convex and knotty occiput, rude, rash, ignorant of fear, and destitute of all softness. In other respects sound, and in good health. Being without human voice he bleated like a sheep, and being averse to the food and drink we are accustomed to, he chewed grass only and hay, and that with the same choice as the most particular sheep. He had lived on rough mountains and in 'desert places... delighting in caves and pathless and inaccessible dens”. When huntsmen had finally captured him. “His appearance was more that of a wild beast than a man; and though kept in restraint, and compelled to live among men, most unwillingly, and only after a long time did he put off his wild character. His throat was large and broad, his tongue as it were fastened to his palate”.

In the early 17th century there are also accounts of children raised by bears in Denmark, and in the mountains of Savoy in France. These 'Bear-Children' reports were fairly widespread, and for instance in 1669, hunters in a Lithuanian forest spotted two little boys among a pack of bears. They captured one child (the fate of the other wasn't described), and took him to Warsaw, where he was named 'Joseph' and presented to the King of Poland. When the King bored of this, he was passed over to an official in Posnan. Several times, Joseph apparently escaped to the woods where he would 'suck the sap of trees and gather wild honey and crab apples'. Once a wild bear, notorious for having killed two men, was seen to approach him and lick his face. In fact Lithuania was something of a hot-spot for bears rearing humans, as other Lithuanian 'Bear-Children' were captured in 1661, and also in 1694. It was suggested that they had all become separated from their families following raids by the marauding Tartars.

In 1717, the 'Kranenburg-girl' was a 'Wild-Child' who was found in the woods outside Zwolle, in the Dutch province of Overyssel. She was believed to have been kidnapped at 16 months of age from her home in Kranenburg, and when she was found, she was dressed in sacking and living on a diet of leaves and grass. There was no evidence that animals had befriended her. After her capture, she learnt spinning and sign language, but never mastered speech ... her case was never satisfactorily explained - for instance where did the sack clothing come from?

In 1729 the 'Wild Girl' of Champagne in France seems to have been able to speak before she wandered off, or was abandoned, for she is one of a few rare examples of one of these 'Wild Children' re-learning to talk coherently again. However she could apparently remember little of her feral existence, but when questioned she thought it had lasted about two years. When she was found in Songi near Chalons in the French district of Champagne in 1731, she was estimated to be aged about 10. She was barefoot, and dressed only in rags and skins, with a gourd leaf on her head. Interestingly, in a pouch she had a knife (apparently inscribed with indecipherable characters) and also carried a cudgel. All this suggests some sort of human intervention, but she had seemingly lost her speech and was so dirty that she was mistaken for a black child.

She is said to have used her thumbs to dig out roots and her diet had consisted of birds, frogs and fish, leaves, branches and roots. Given a rabbit, she immediately skinned and devoured it. “Her fingers and in particular her thumbs, were extraordinarily large,” according to a contemporary witness, the famous scientist Charles Marie de la Condamine.  She is said to have been able swing from tree to tree like a monkey and was so fast a runner (and with such sharp eyesight), that when the Queen of Poland, the mother of the French Queen, passed through Champagne in 1737 to take possession of the Duchy of Lorraine, she heard about the girl and took her hunting, where she outran and killed rabbits. When she died in Paris she had taken the name of Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc, and had eked out an obscure existence by making artificial flowers, and selling her memoirs (written by one Madame Hecquet).

In 1724, a naked, hairy boy walking on all fours emerged from the woods near Hamelin, Germany. He was coaxed into being captured, upon which he behaved like a wild animal, choosing to eat both birds and vegetables raw and was incapable of speaking. The Elector of Hanover George, brought him over from Hanover to England where he was given the name of 'Peter the Wild Boy'. Though he never learned to talk, he supposedly loved music, was taught menial tasks, and lived to an advanced age. He spent 68 years in society, but never learnt to say anything except “Peter” and “King George”. Eventually he was 'retired' to a farm owned by Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. He probably had Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, a medical condition that wasn't identified until 1978, although his hearing and sense of smell were said to be “particularly acute”. A gravestone marks where he was laid to rest in a churchyard in 1785.

In 1767 hunters from Fraumark in lower Hungary came upon a bear’s den high in the mountains, where they found a girl of about 18, tall and brown skinned. Her behaviour was “very crude” and when taken to an asylum she refused to eat anything but raw meat, roots and tree bark.

Captured in France in 1799/1800, after being first spotted two years earlier, Victor of Aveyron was eventually passed into the care of a Dr Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who failed to teach him to speak, he was perhaps the most famous feral child of them all as Victor's story was made into the film “L'Enfant Sauvage”. Although his origins are a mystery, it is generally believed that Victor lived his entire childhood naked and alone in the woods before being spotted in 1797. After a few more sightings, he had eventually emerged on his own near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France. Victor became the subject for many philosophers and scientists who were curious about the origins of language and human behaviour, though little progress was made in his development due to his cognitive impairments.

Modern (19th to 21st Century)

The Lobo Wolf-Girl of Devil's River - In 1845, a mysterious girl was seen running on all fours in the company of wolves attacking a herd of goats near San Felipe, Mexico. The story was corroborated a year later when the girl was seen again, this time devouring a freshly killed goat. As the story goes, alarmed local villagers mounted a search for the girl days later, eventually capturing her. Supposedly she howled incessantly throughout the night, attracting a pack of wolves that charged into the village in an apparent rescue attempt. She was able to sneak out of her enclosure and escape. The girl was not seen again until 1852, when she was reportedly witnessed suckling two wolf cubs on a sand bar in a river. After being seen, she gathered up the two cubs, ran back into the woods and was never heard from again.

Another 'Sheep-Boy' was captured near Trikkala in Greece in 1891. He had been living with his woolly family for four years.

Mowgli - The Most Famous 'Jungle Child' - Real Jungle Children Lead Sadder Lives.

The original Mowgli's Amala and Kamala - These two girls, 8 years old and 18 months respectively when discovered, were found in a wolves' den in 1920 in Midnapore, India. Their story is wrapped in controversy. Because they were so far apart in age, experts did not think they were sisters. It's more likely that wolves took them both on different occasions. Like many of the other feral children in these reports, they apparently longed to return to the wild, and were miserable in their lives trying to cope with the civilised world. The girls  were thought to be aged about eight and two. According to contemporaries the girls had misshapen jaws, elongated canines, and eyes that shone in the dark with the peculiar blue glare of cats and dogs. Amala died the following year, but Kamala survived until 1929, by which time she had given up eating carrion, had learned to walk upright and spoke about 50 words.

Fourteen 'Wolf-Children' were found in India between 1841 and 1895, seven of which were described by General WH Sleeman (the nemesis of the Thugge's). The first was captured in Hasunpur (near Sultanpur in what is now Uttar Pradesh), and showed most of the typical wolf child characteristics. His favourite food was raw meat, and he was unable to speak. “There were evident signs, on his knees and elbows, of his having gone on all-fours”, wrote Sleeman; “and when asked to run on all-fours, he used to do so, and went so fast that no-one could overtake him”. Some wolf children responded to education. One found in Sultanpur in 1895 allegedly grew up to be a policeman.

Feral but coherent - Misha Defonseca, “In all my travels, the only time I ever slept deeply was when I was with wolves… The days with my wolf family multiplied. I have no idea how many months I spent with them but I wanted it to last forever – it was far better than returning to the world of my own kind. Today, though most memories of my long journey are etched in tones of grey, the time spent with the wolves… is drenched in colour. Those were the most beautiful days I had ever experienced”. So wrote Misha Defonseca, a Jewish orphan who, from the ages of seven to 11, wandered through occupied Europe during World War II, living on wild berries, raw meat and food stolen from farmhouses, and occasionally teaming up with wolves.

Other areas also reported similar feral children: In 1971, five-year-old Goranka Cuculic got lost in the forest near her home village of Vranje in Yugoslavia. Three days later she was found by a farmer and related how she had met a bear and two cubs. The bear licked her face, and she played with the cubs and snuggled up to them at night in a cave. In October 2001, a 16-month-old toddler went missing in Iran, and was found in a bears’ den three days later, safe and well. It was thought that the baby had been breast-fed by a mother bear.

Vicente Cau Cau: Found in southern Chile in 1984, when he was about 10 years old - believed to have lived among pumas

In 1991 John Ssebunya was found in Uganda, aged 14 and described as a 'Monkey-Boy'. He had lived from the age of two in the Ugandan jungle and was said to have been brought up by monkeys. Apparently after seeing his mother murdered by his father, the traumatised 4-year-old John fled into the jungle, where he reportedly was raised by a troop of Vervet monkeys until his discovery in 1991. As is often the case when feral children are discovered, he resisted capture from the villagers who sought to take him, and he got assistance from his adoptive monkey family (which supposedly threw sticks at his captors). Since his capture, John has been taught how to speak, and was a singer with the 'Pearl of Africa children's choir'.

In 1991 the Ukrainian dog girl - Apparently left to live in a kennel by her abusive and neglectful parents from the ages of 3 to 8, Oxana Malaya grew up with no other company than the dogs she shared the kennel with. When she was found she was unable to speak, choosing only to bark, and ran around on all fours. Now an adult, Malaya has been taught to speak but remains cognitively impaired. She has found some peace caring for the cows that reside on a farm near the mental institution where she lives.

Madina - Brought Up By Dogs, But Recovering.

Madina - Madina's tragic story is much like poor Oxana Malaya's. Abandoned until her discovery just last year at the age of 3, she lived with dogs. When found, she knew only two words, yes and no, though she preferred to growl like a dog. Unusually, Madina was declared mentally and physically healthy by medics shortly after her discovery, despite her ordeal. Though her development has been hampered, she was young enough that her caretakers believed that she can lead a relatively normal lifestyle when she grows up.

In 2007 in Rochom P'ngieng - A young woman was found naked and walking on all fours in north-east Cambodia and is thought to have spent 18 years in jungle. She had been herding buffalo along the jungle's edge in Cambodia at the age of 8, when she got lost and disappeared. Eighteen years later, in 2007, a villager caught her attempting to steal rice. Identified as the long lost Rochom P'ngieng due to a distinctive scar on her back, the girl had grown into a 30-year-old woman who had somehow survived on her own in the dense jungle. Unable to learn the local language or to adapt to the local culture, she fled back to the wild in May 2010. There have been mixed reports about her whereabouts since that time, including one about her reappearance in June 2010 in a deep, dugout toilet near her home.

Less well known reports:

Russian bird boy - Confined in a room surrounded by bird cages, a Russian boy was raised like a pet bird by his abusive mother. When he was discovered, he could not speak and instead merely chirped like his bird companions. Though he was not physically harmed, he cannot engage in any normal human communication. He has been moved to a centre for psychological care where professionals are working to rehabilitate him

The ‘Altay Mowgli’: Feral man spent entire life in mud hut in Siberian forest - A feral man who says that he has never left the woods has been found near a small settlement in Siberia. Hermit parents, who then reportedly abandoned him, brought up the 20 year old. “He has got no education, doesn’t have any social skills and has no conception of the world outside of the woods,” said Roman Fomin, a prosecutor in the town of Belokuriha in the Altay region. The man said that his parents told him that he was born in 1993, and took him to the forest when he was four. In May of 2012, the couple, whose names have not been published in the media, reportedly abandoned him. Police say they are searching for the adults, who were reported by locals to have departed for the island of Sakhalin, off Russia’s Pacific Coast. A local woman discovered the feral man living in a hut in the ground, 3 kilometres from the nearest human settlement, and escorted him to the police department. The man, who looks no older than about fifteen, has never been observed by a doctor, and was not registered at birth, and therefore is not currently eligible for medical or social aid.

Other Russians:

With its vast, often inaccessible landmass, sparse population, and inconsistent social service coverage, Russian media stories about feral children are not unusual. Six-year-old Ivan Mishukov was spotted among a pack of stray dogs, who accepted him as their leader, when social services found him back in 1998. Mishukov had escaped from an abusive parent, and later joined the Navy cadet corps. In 2007, there were reports of Alesha, a child raised by wolves, who communicated by barking, howling and biting, and escaped from the police.

Despite the modern world that we think we live in, these reports continue to roll in of 'feral children' - sadly many of these are the result by abusive parents bringing their children up amongst the farm livestock (including some poor little creatures brought up with chickens), or locking away mentally handicapped children, but the odd true 'Wild Boy' does still turn up.

One can only wonder at the resilience some of these children displayed in surviving on their own in the most unlikely of circumstances, or from terrible neglect and abuses, but how sad their lives must have been.

12 comments:

  1. That's an impressive summary. Is it only human offspring that are adopted by animals? I know that under human supervision all sorts of animals co-inhabit and suckle one another, but have there ever been accounts of pigs running and hunting like their wolf step-parents in the wild?

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    1. Lionesses occasionally 'adopt' baby gazelle or antelopes .... it never ends well for the adopted creature. It either starves, or is killed by other members of the Pride. A similar fate I suspect would happen to your wild pig or wart hog in a pack of wolves.

      Here's a typical report on such an adoption .....

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    2. Thanks for the link, very interesting. I think that you can drop the parentheses from the word adopt; if the lion could sign her name on a certificate I'm sure she would, although I'm not so sure about an adoption agency allowing it !
      That's a lot of evidence that animals and humans share many instincts and emotions.

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    3. Vroomfondel, I am not sure where there is a lot of evidence that animals and humans share many instincts and emotions. All females are generally born with 'maternal' instincts. This is true of lionesses and women, but it surely ends there. Apart from the great apes, and with the possible exception of elephants, animals seem to not grieve over death, or even recognize that its occurred much. They certainly don't empathize with others of their species dying. A lion for example will eat a dead lion from outside its pride if it comes across it. So apart from the most common animal traits of fear, pain, and self preservation, they and us don't seem to share that much, because they don't recognise self, and therefore can't share the feelings that self awareness promotes in humans e.g. Misery, depression, loneliness, happiness, joy, empathy etc.

      Delete
    4. There are certainly many emotions that we don't share but I would call fear, loss, anger, loneliness and pain 'many', as well as maternal and paternal instincts, self preservation, procreation, etc.

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    5. There is obviously a time difference between us visiting, but that's not the only the only difference. I quite clearly attributed loneliness as a human attribute. Animals act entirely by instinct, not self will. Parenting, self preservation, and procreation are also instinctual in animals i.e they do so though external stimuli such as seasons (mating), but humans for example can choose whether to procreate, self preserve, or feel anger and we only 'share' these attributes with animals in so far as you are willing to anthropomorphize animals instincts, into being akin to humans feelings or emotions.

      I am not a regular to this blog so apologies if i am not expressing my argument clearly.

      Delete
    6. You're expressing your arguments clearly enough, I'm just not agreeing with them entirely. I may be anthropomorphising some, it's very difficult to know what goes on in another's head, let alone an animal's, so my view is as difficult to prove as your's.

      Delete
    7. Chuck. From Albany24 December 2013 at 21:50

      I guess that at this time of year we will just have to agree to not agree. Happy Holidays to you and yours Vroomfondel.

      Delete
  2. I just think its amazing that these little humans somehow find a way to surprize fate, and survive in the most unlikely of circumstances.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Human beings are remarkably resilient.

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  3. India has just produced another monkey child

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-39525071

    A little girl, aged between eight and 10, was found a few weeks ago in a forest in Uttar Pradesh. Doctors said she could not communicate and displayed "monkey-like" traits as she was believed to have been living with monkeys.

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    Replies
    1. Its amazing that in this day and age these children can still turn up. Thanks for the link and comment on this older posting.

      Delete

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