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 behavior, and, crucially, of human language.Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); in some cases this child abandonment was due to the parents’ rejection of a child’s severe intellectual or physical impairment. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Others are alleged to have been brought up by animals; some are said to have lived in the wild on their own. Just over one hundred incidents have been reported in total, here we enumerate 10 of them who got famous in their own times.
1. Oxana Malaya, The Ukrainian Dog Girl
Date found: 1991
Age when found: 8
Location: Blagoveshchenka, Ukraine
Years in the wild: 5
Not really either a feral child or a confined child, but rather a neglected one, Oxana Malaya spent much of her childhood between the ages of 3 and 8 living in a kennel in the back garden of the family home in Novaya Blagoveschenka, Ukraine, although she did spend some time in the house with her alcholic and neglectful parents.
Oxana’s alcoholic parents were unable to care for her, and at three years of age she was exiled from her home. They lived in an impoverished area where there were wild dogs roaming the streets. She took refuge in a shed inhabited by these dogs behind her house. She was cared for by them and learned their behaviors and mannerisms. The bonding with the pack of dogs was so strong that the authorities who came to rescue her were driven away in the first attempt by the dogs. Her actions and sounds mimicked those of her carers. She growled, barked, walked on all fours and crouched like a wild dog, sniffed at her food before she ate it, and was found to have acquired extremely acute senses of hearing, smell and sight. She only knew how to say “yes” and “no” when she was rescued.
When she was discovered, Oxana found it difficult to acquire normal human social and emotional skills. She had been deprived of intellectual and social stimulation, and her only emotional support had come from the dogs she lived with. Oxana’s lack of exposure to language in a social context made it very difficult for her to improve her language skills. When first found in 1991 she could hardly speak.
As of 2010 at the age of 26, Oxana resides at a home for the mentally handicapped, where she helps look after the cows in the clinic’s farm. She has expressed that she is happiest when among dogs.
2. The Russian Bird Boy
In 2008, Russian care workers rescued a seven-year-old “bird-boy” who could communicate only by “chirping” after his mother raised him in a virtual aviary, it has been reported. Authorities said the neglected child was found living in a tiny two-room apartment surrounded by cages containing dozens of birds, bird feed and droppings.
The so-called “bird-boy” did not understand any human language and communicates instead by chirping and flapping his arms, Russian newspaper Pravda reported. Social worker Galina Volskaya, who was involved is rescuing the child from his home in Kirovsky, Volgograd, said he was treated like another pet by his 31-year-old mother who never spoke to him. Miss Volskaya said: “When you start talking to him, he chirps.”
Russian authorities say the child was not physically harmed but is suffering from “Mowgli syndrome”, named after the Jungle Book character raised by wild animals, and cannot engage in any normal human communication.
Pravda reported: “(his mother) had her own domestic birds and fed wild ones. (She) neither beat him nor left him without food. She just never talked to him. It was all the birds that communicated with the boy and taught him birds’ language. “He just chirps and when realising that he is not understood, and starts to wave hands in the way birds winnow wings.” The boy’s mother signed an abdication form to release the child into care after he was discovered. He was temporarily transferred to an asylum, but later soon was sent to the centre of psychological care, according to reports.
3. Rochom P’ngieng, Cambodian Jungle Girl
Date found: 2007
Age when found: 29
Location: Cambodian Jungle
Years in the wild: 19
Animals: various animals
The so-called Cambodian Jungle girl is a Cambodian woman who emerged from the jungle in Ratanakiri province, Cambodia on January 13, 2007. A family in a nearby village claimed that the woman was their daughter Rochom Pn’gieng (born 1979) age 29 or 30 who had disappeared 18 or 19 years previously; the story was covered in most media as one of a feral child who lived in the jungle for most of her life.
She came to international attention after emerging filthy, naked and scared from the dense jungle of Ratanakiri province in remote northeastern Cambodia on January 13, 2007. After a villager noticed food missing from a lunch box, he staked out the area, spotted the woman, gathered some friends and caught her.
She was recognised by her father, policeman Ksor Lu long, because of a scar on her back. He said Rochom P’ngieng was lost in the Cambodian jungle at the age of eight when herding buffalo with her six-year-old sister (who also disappeared). One week after being discovered, she experienced difficulties adjusting to civilized life. Local police reported that she was only able to say three words: “father”, “mother” and “stomachache”. A Spanish psychologist who visited the girl reported that she “made some words and smiled in response to a game involving toy animals and a mirror” but did not speak any recognizable language. When she was thirsty or hungry, she pointed at her mouth. She preferred to crawl rather than walk upright. The family watched Rochom P’ngieng around the clock to make sure she did not run off back to the jungle, as she tried to do several times. Her mother constantly had to pull back on the clothes when she tried to take them off. A visiting Guardianreporter described the family as genuinely caring for her and the woman as listless and sad but restless at night. In May 2010, Rochom P’ngieng has fled back to the jungle. Despite the searching they have not managed to recover her.
4. Traian Caldarar, the Romanian Dog Boy
Date found: 2002
Age when found: 7
Location: Brasov, Romănia
Years in the wild: 3
Traian Caldarar is a Romanian boy who apparently lived wild, separated from his family, for three years. He is believed to have left the family home because of domestic violence. His mother, Lina Caldarar, said that she loved her son but had a violent partner, who was always beating her. When she lost Traian, she was distraught, and hoped he had perhaps been adopted by another family. She said: “When I fled, I lost contact with Traian, although I tried to get him back. He [the boy’s father] didn’t allow me to take my child, even though I tried to. He said the child belonged to him.”
Although aged seven when he was found, Traian Caldarar was only the size of a three-year-old, could not speak, and was naked and living in a cardboard box covered with a polythene sheet. He suffered from severe rickets, had infected injuries and his circulation was poor, possibly because of frostbite. Doctors believe it would have been impossible for Traian to survive on his own and speculated that he received assistance from the many stray dogs in the Transylvanian countryside. He was found near the body of a dog that he had apparently been eating.
Traian Caldarar was found after the car of a shepherd, Manolescu Ioan, broke down. Mr Ioan had to walk from his pastures and came across child who he reported to police, who later captured the boy. Traian walked with the bandy gait of a chimpanzee and tried to sleep under his bed rather than on it. Dr Mircea Florea said: “He was found in an animal position and his movements are animalistic. The facts show that he was not brought up in a social environment. He becomes very agitated when he does not have food. He is looking for something to eat all the time. He sleeps after he eats.”
5. John Ssebunya, the Ugandan Monkey Boy
Date found: 1991
Age when found: 6
Years in the wild: 3
John Ssebunya was born in the mid 1980s, but ran away from home (probably aged around three) after seeing his mother murdered by his own father. It is generally accepted that John Ssebunya was cared for at least to some extent by green African (vervet) monkeys while in the jungle. John was found by a tribeswoman or girl (called Millie) in 1991, hiding in a tree. She returned with menfolk from the village and, as is so often the case, not only did John resist capture but also his adoptive family came to his defence, throwing sticks at the villagers.
Initial reports suggest John Ssebunya’s entire body was covered with hair called hypertrichosis. When he defecated, he excreted worms over half a metre long. Once captured and cleaned up — he was covered in scars and wounds, with knees scarred from crawling — he was identified as John Ssebunya. He was given by Millie to the care of Paul and Molly Wasswa, who run a charitable foundation for orphans. He couldn’t talk or cry initially, but has subsequently learned to speak. This suggests that he may have learned some speech before his stay in the wild.
John now not only talks but also sings, and tours with the Pearl of Africa children’s choir. John was the subject of the BBC documentary Living Proof, screened on 13 October 1999.
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