In 2007, villagers captured a mysterious young woman in a remote region of Cambodia who, by all accounts, was completely isolated from human society, a feral child living in the forests. News of her discovery circulated quickly as authorities attempted to identify the girl, dubbed "Jungle Girl" by the press. Soon, a family came forward claiming she was their daughter who became lost in 1989, as she bared a similar scar on her arm, and that her name was Rochom P'ngieng. Over the next three years, she lived with her presumed family, though acquiring language and integrating into society would prove difficult. Now, after her brief stint at village life, Rochom's father reported that she has fled back into the jungle that was her home for 18 years.According to The Phnom Penh Post, the escape of "Jungle Girl" Rochom P'ngieng, who's believed to be 29 years old, has come as a surprise to the man who stepped forward claiming to be her father three years earlier. Although adjusting to village life was difficult, Rochom had slowly begun to learn the local language and even had started deciding for herself to wear clothes.
Her father, Sal Lou, explains the unexpectedness of her disappearance:
Even the day before she fled the house, she still helped the family pick vegetables for cooking. She must have gone back to the forest, because since she left the house, we have looked all over ... and we still cannot find her.
Along with the girl's family, villagers and police have scoured the region in search of Rochom, but so far she hasn't turned up. While authorities say they are still looking, Sal Lou has turned to local mystics for help, but he cannot afford the ox, pig, chicken, and wine they demand as an offering for the mountain spirits to ensure her safe return.
Her True Identity Called Into Question
After she was discovered in 2007 by villagers and subsequently claimed to be Rochom P'ngieng by the girl's father, some doubts have been raised as to whether or not she actually the family's missing daughter. Sal Lou says that in 1989, his 9-year-old daughter went missing in the jungle. He was able to identify the feral "Jungle Girl" as Rochom because of a scar on her that he remember on his child. For some reason, however, the family never allowed a DNA test to be performed which may have confirmed a relation.
Those critical of the family's claims suggest that the child was perhaps not feral at all, but was rather held in captivity, noting her seeming familiarity with eating utensils and suspicious scaring on her body that may have resulted from being shackled. Still, according to the BBC, police say she was found naked, "walking bent over like a monkey," and witnesses some witnesses say she may have been accompanied by a feral man who managed to esape capture himself.
Despite all intrigue generated by the discovery of a "Jungle Girl" and the mystery surrounding her survival for however many years she spent apart from society, her story seems to transcend that of a media's typical litany of curiosities. Not only is she, along with history's few confirmed feral human, a case study for sociologists, but for the rest of us as well.
In a day and age where our lives are so disconnected from the natural world, aside from yearly weekend camping trip perhaps, there's something particularly fascinating about a person for whom the bonds of our modern life are mere novelties. And although we may never know why this feral girl, who spent most of her life in the jungles of Cambodia, decided to return to the wild after three years away--it's difficult to really blame her.
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