Raised by Animals
Stories of children raised by animals have been with us for millennia, from legends and myths to actual documented cases. We’re all familiar with Tarzan and Mowgli but the topic is far more involved.
Myths and Legends
Surprisingly there are few myths that deal with feral children with one important exception. Going back to ancient Sumeria the companion to Gilgamesh, Enkidu, was raised by an unnamed beasts. The Iranian hero, Zaal, was taken in by a huge mystical bird. In American folklore Pecos Bill was raised by coyotes. To name just a few, but it’s Romulus and Remus who steal the spotlight. What did they do? Why only built Rome! Raised by a wolf the twins then build Rome, but Remus is killed by Romulus over an argument. The image of the twins suckling from a she-wolf has been a symbol of Rome for centuries.
Fiction and Literature
It wasn’t until 1879 that a novel focused on a protagonist raised by animals. Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul, by Albert Robida sees Saturnin reared by orangutans and become the King of the Jungle. A few years later the better known Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book became a sensation detailing the life of Mowgli, raised by wolves and his friendship with other animals. About twenty years later the Tarzan swung onto the scene. Tarzan of the Apes epitomized the concept of the noble savage, that man in his most natural state outside civilization is his true and most perfect state. The theme of feral children, being reared by wolves, apes, deer, even dolphins, has been returned to by authors ever since.
Real Life Cases
While true cases of children raised by animals are rare they’re not as uncommon as one would think. Reports go back as far as the Middle Ages and continue to the modern era. However, unlike in fiction, children raised by animals exhibit stunted development, often losing the ability to speak or socialize. Here are a few cases.
John of Liège
There are some accounts going back to the 1300’s however the first documented case of a feral child, albeit without any evidence of animal interference, was the story of John of Liège. A Belgian boy who at the age of five fled a battle in his village into the nearby forest. When everyone else returned to the village he didn’t. For the next sixteen years he lived off berries and roots until he was caught stealing food from a farm. His sense of smell had become acutely heightened however he lost that sensitivity as he reintegrated into civilization.
In 1867 a group of hunters in Bulandshahr district, India, discovered a young boy in a cave who appeared to have lived all his life in the wild. He ran on all fours having lived with wolves. He was brought to a orphan where the missionaries tried to rehabilitate him. He never learned to speak and ate only raw meat. It’s been suggested that he was the inspiration for Kipling’s Mowgli.
Bello, the Nigerian Chimp Boy
Found at the age of two living with chimpanzees, Bello was believed to have been abandoned by his parents due to physical and mental disabilities.
Bello walked like a chimpanzee, dragging his arms on the ground. He would leap about in the dormitory, throwing and breaking things. Bello was much calmer by the time he was eight, but would still leap around like a chimp, sound like a chimpanzee, and clap his cupped hands over his head. Unfortunately, Bello passed away in 2005.
Oxana Malaya, The Ukrainian Dog Girl
Severely neglected by her alcoholic parents, Oxana Malaya spent much of her childhood between the ages of three and eight living with dogs in Novaya Blagoveschenka, Ukraine.
Exiled from her home by her parents, Oxana took refuge in a shed inhabited by feral dogs behind her house. The pack cared for her and she learned their behaviors. The dogs even attacked the rescuers when they attempted to take her away. She growled, barked, walked on all fours/ She would sit like a wild dog, and was found to have acute hearing, sense of smell and sight. The only language she knew was “yes” and “no”.
Like most feral children she found it difficult to assimilate to human society. She has expressed that she was happiest when living with the dogs.