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Raised by animals

April 08, 2017

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Tarzan was a legendary character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1912 novel Tarzan Of The Apes. The character is a boy, lost as an infant in the jungle, who was cared for and raised by apes and grows up to experience many adventures in the jungle.

There’s no doubt that readers thought Tarzan was a work of pure fiction. But there really was such a man — English nobleman William Charles Mildin, 14th Earl of Streatham who, shipwrecked on the jungle coast of Africa, was taken care of by apes and on whom Mr Burroughs based his series.

Mr Mildin spent some 15 years in the wild between 1868 to 1883, and his life was the prototype for Tarzan. Of course, it didn’t have the drama, fights and climax of the Tarzan series, but it was filled with a lot of adventures.

But can animals be caretakers/care providers to humans? Why not?

We have so many examples of pets, especially dogs and cats, being so protective of their owners and performing amazing acts of rescue, but animals in the wild pose a danger to humans. The reason, undoubtedly, is that animals living there are not tamed and are exposed to wild situations where only one rule is followed — survival of the fittest. Yes, in order to live, they have to fight and sometimes they have to kill to live.

We have so many examples of pets, especially dogs and cats, being so protective of their owners and performing amazing acts of rescue, but animals in the wild pose a danger to humans. The reason, undoubtedly, is that animals living there are not tamed and are exposed to wild situations where only one rule is followed — survival of the fittest. Yes, in order to live, they have to fight and sometimes they have to kill to live.

If an adult is lost somewhere in the wild, he/she will find some ways to get food and shelter because they have more knowledge of things. But when it comes to children, who don’t have enough knowledge of survival in the wild and enough life skills to take care of their own safety, it is difficult to comprehend their survival.

But sometimes unusual incidents occur that defy reason and belief. There have been cases of children lost in the wild, while in others they were the victims of shipwreck. Some kids not only survived, but adopted the way of life of their animal caretakers. And the animals taking care of them were as protective of the human child. Such children are called feral children. And by definition, a feral child is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care, loving or social behaviour, and of human language.

Historically, there have been many cases of feral children being spotted by people with various animals such as wolves, dogs, chimpanzees, etc., scavenging and then disappearing into the wild. Some of these made the headlines. We are recounting some of the famous ones here.


The Nigerian chimp boy — Bello

Date found: 1996

Age when found: two

Location: Nigeria

Years in the wild: one

Raised by: chimps

Bello had both mental and physical disabilities and is believed to have been abandoned as a baby — a common practice with disabled children among the Fulani, the nomadic people of the West African Sahel region.

Bello was found with a chimpanzee family in the Falgore forest, 150km south of Kano in northern Nigeria.

When rescued, he was taken to the Tudun Maliki Torrey home in Kano. It is said that the boy seemed restless at night in the dormitory, disturbed other children, smashed and threw things around. But after spending six years there, Bello became much calmer, but would still leap around in a chimpanzee-like fashion, make chimpanzee-like noises and clap his cupped hands over his head repeatedly. Bello died in 2005.


The wolf girls — Kamala and Amala

Date found: 1920

Age when found: Kamala eight years, Amala around two years old

Location: Midnapore, India

Raised by: wolves

The story of these two girls is believed by some to be true while others consider it a hoax.

In 1920, a missionary, named Reverend Joseph Singh who ran an orphanage, claimed to have found the girls in a wolf den in the forest of Midnapore, India. According to Singh, the rescue was too difficult as the mother wolf was ferocious and would not let him approach the girls. Therefore, he had to shoot her to get the human kids, he also said that he was alone at the time of the rescue so nobody knows the true origin of the girls.

However, it is said that the girls didn’t know any human traits and walked on all fours. They could only growl, howl like their wolf carers, and ate raw meat and avoided cooked food. They resisted wearing clothes. It is further said that the youngest of the girls didn’t live beyond five years of age, while others say she ran back into the woods to live with the ‘family’ she had grown up with.

Kamala, the older one, stayed at the orphanage and learnt some 50 words and adopted walking upright on her legs. But she also ran back to the wild, leaving no trace behind.

French researcher Serge Aroles speculates that Singh may have fabricated most of the story to raise funds for the orphanage he was operating.


The Indian wolf boy — Dina Sanichar

Date found: 1867

Age when found: six

Location: Sekandra, India

Years in the wild: six

Raised by: wolves

Dina’s story is similar to that of Amala and Kamala, as the animal which raised the boy was a wolf. He was found by some hunters while he was following a wolf into a cave on all fours, in the Bulandshahr region of India. He seemed well-adjusted to the wild where he had grown.

He was assumed to have been mentally sub-normal. When rescued, he was taken to an orphanage in Agra, but he didn’t assimilate well with human society and always preferred raw meat to cooked food. He died in 1895.


The Syrian gazelle boy

Date found: 1946

Age when found: around 10

Location: Syrian Desert

Years in the wild: nine

Raised by: gazelles

Though this boy was thin, he was very healthy and strong. He was found by the Iraqi army in the desert of Syria, running incredibly swiftly with the herd of gazelles at the speed of around 32 to 34mph with continuous leaps of about 13 feet (Olympic sprinters can reach only 25mph in short bursts). He was captured and taken into custody.

It is believed that the boy was lost or abandoned as a baby and grew up with the gazelles. He had picked up the traits of his carers and was seen habitually twitching his muscles, scalp, nose and ears in response to the slightest noise, just like the rest of the herd. Even in deepest sleep, the boy seemed constantly alert, raising his head at unusual noises and sniffing around him like the gazelles. The boy escaped to live again with his gazelle family but he was soon recaptured. But missing the freedom and company of the animals that had cared for him, he once more disappeared into the wild, never to be found again.


Cambodian jungle girl

— Rochom P’ngieng

Date found: 2007

Age when found: 29

Location: Cambodian Jungle

Years in the wild: 19

Raised by: various animals

For several days, a villager noticed his food had been missing from his lunchbox. He stalked out the area and spotted an unusual looking woman quickly disappearing into the woods. Thus, Rochom P’ngieng was caught from the jungle of Ratanakiri province, Cambodia, on January 13, 2007. She was immediately recognised by her father who claimed that she had disappeared at the age of eight while herding buffaloes with her six-year-old sister (also missing). The girls probably lost their way back home and kept wandering in the woods.

Spending almost 19 years in the jungle, the girl forgot all vocabulary and could only speak three words: ‘mother’ ‘father’ and ‘stomachache’. In May 2010, the girl fled back to the woods and despite several search attempts, she could not be found. Nothing is known about the other girl who went missing with P’ngieng.


The Russian bird boy

Date found: 2008

Age when found: seven

Location: Volgograd, Russia

Years in the wild: seven

Raised with: birds

The boy was rescued by Russian care workers from a bird aviary in his own home. The child was a case of neglect by his own family. He was not physically harmed but he was treated just like other birds in the house’s aviary. The boy could not speak nor could he understand human language. He could chirp and flap his arms like the birds do with their wings. The boy was given psychological care after being rescued and he learnt to assimilate with people again and learned to speak well.


The Ukrainian dog girl — Oxana Malaya

Date found: 1991

Age when found: eight

Location: Blagoveshchenka, Ukraine

Years in the wild: five

Raised by: dogs

This girl spent much of her childhood in the garden at the back of her house with the canine family.

Living in an impoverished area, where wild dogs roamed the streets, the little girl soon became a family member to these dogs. The animals were her pets, friends and playmates. Some of the dogs, though not pets, adopted the child as their own and cared for her, thus she also adopted their behaviour and manners.

The bonding of the child and the dogs was so strong that when authorities came to rescue the girl, they were driven away instantly. After several tries, the girl was finally rescued. However, the girl mimicked all the actions and sounds of the dogs. She even walked on all fours, barked, growl and sniffed the food before eating it. It is said that she had acquired extremely acute senses of smell, hearing and sight.

The girl had to be taught human language and behaviour. As of 2010, at the age of 26, Oxana is said to be living at a home for the mentally challenged, where she used her excellent bonding with animals to help in looking after the cows in the clinic’s farm.


The Andes goat boy — Daniel

Date found: 1990

Age when found: 12

Location: Andes, Perú

Years in the wild: supposedly eight

Raised by: goats

Daniel was found in the mountains of Peru living among goats. He supposedly survived eight years in the wild by drinking goat’s milk and eating roots and berries found around that area. He easily moved with the mountain goats on all fours on rocky or hilly areas.

The name Daniel was given by a team from Kansas University and Kansas State University, who investigated this Andes goat boy and declared that while his human language skills were almost non-existent, he could still communicate with the goats he thought of as his family. Nothing else is known about the boy.

Published in Dawn, Young World April 8th, 2017