8 Children Who Were Raised by Animals

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From myth to reality

Photo: Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 1.0]

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, were abandoned as children and had to be suckled by a wolf until they were discovered by a wandering shepherd. Eventually they founded the great city on Palatine Hill, the very place where they had been cared for by the wolf. This is likely just a myth, but history abounds with real stories of children who really were raised by animals.

Although reality for these feral children is rarely so romanticized as it was for Romulus and Remus (feral children are often hampered with cognitive and behavioral disabilities), occasionally their stories can also be a testament to the human will to survive, and of the tender maternal instinct of other animals.

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Ukrainian dog girl

FORMFILMS.

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 in 1991, she was unable to speak, choosing only to bark, and ran around on all fours. Now in her 20s, Malaya has been taught to speak but remains cognitively impaired. She has found some peace caring for cows that reside on a farm near the mental institution where she lives.

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Cambodian jungle girl

Heng Sinith/AP.

While herding buffalo along the jungle's edge in Cambodia at the age of 8, Rochom P'ngieng became lost and mysteriously disappeared. Eighteen years later, in 2007, a villager caught sight of a naked woman sneaking around his property 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.

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Ugandan monkey boy

Birgitta Seegers.

After seeing his mother murdered by his father, a traumatized 4-year-old John Ssebunya 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 can now sing, too. In fact, he even tours with the Pearl of Africa children's choir. (Note: This is not a photo of John Ssebunya.)

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Victor of Aveyron

Wiki Commons.

Perhaps the most famous feral child of them all, Victor's story was made widely known in 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 eventually emerged on his own near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France, in 1800. Victor became the subject for many philosophers and scientists who were curious about the origins of language and human behavior, though little progress was made in his development due to his cognitive impairments.

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Lobo Wolf Girl of Devil's River

peupleloup/Flickr.

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.

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Russian bird boy

Michael (mx5tx)/Flickr.

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 center for psychological care where professionals are working to rehabilitate him.

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Amala and Kamala

feralchildren.com.

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 they were both taken by wolves on different occasions. Like many other feral children, they reportedly longed to return to the wild and were miserable in their lives trying to cope with the civilized world.

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Peter the Wild Boy

Wiki Commons.

A naked, hairy boy walking on all fours emerged from the woods near Hamelin, Germany, in 1724. Eventually coaxed into being captured, he behaved like a wild animal, choosing to eat both birds and vegetables raw and was incapable of speaking. After being moved to England, 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. A gravestone marks where he was laid to rest in a churchyard in 1785.