The story of a young girl named Ehsaas recently captivated the world.
Dubbed the "Mowgli girl" after the character from The Jungle Book who was raised by wolves, she was reportedly found living among the monkeys at the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, near the Nepalese border in India.
Authorities, however, have expressed doubt that the little girl was raised by those primates. And the only people who might know how long she lived in the sanctuary aren't telling.
Initial reports indicated that the girl was being raised by a family of monkeys for two years. The claim was that the little girl was taken in as one of their own, being raised by a mother as if the girl were one of her offspring.
Officials were immediately skeptical of these claims because of where the girl was allegedly being raised. She was found in an animal sanctuary that gets thousands of visitors each day. It's extremely unlikely that she was there for two years without anyone seeing her and reporting it to authorities. Certainly a little girl living in a tree with monkeys would have aroused suspicions.
The sanctuary also has hundreds of cameras that are monitored by security guards around the clock. Even if she had somehow managed to elude visitors, it's almost impossible that she would have been undetected by the guards.
In fact, it was one of the park's sub-inspectors who found Ehsaas in the first place. Suresh Yadav was making his rounds through the sanctuary when he spotted a young human girl among the monkeys.
She was fully clothed, suggesting that she hadn't been out in the woods too terribly long.
Yadav approached the girl.
He planned to rescue her. She had other plans. Some stories report that Ehsaas and the monkeys screeched wildly at the sub-inspector when he got close, although Yadav denies these stories.
"She was moving around on her haunches," Yadav told the Indian Express. "She was wearing a frock and kachchha (underwear). She was very weak and tried to move away on seeing us... There were no monkeys. She was not naked, and she was not using her hands to walk. I don't know how these stories are being spread."
Yadav called in the local police for backup. It took awhile, but eventually the authorities were able to coerce the girl to come with them. They took her straight to the hospital, where she was treated for low hemoglobin.
The little girl continues to screech, not unlike the monkeys that people say cared for her in the woods. So far, she hasn't figured out any English. She also seems afraid of other people, and she can get very violent when medical staff get in her way.
Of course that doesn't mean she was "raised" by the monkeys, although it's possible that she did spend quite a bit of time with them.
This story is full of mysteries. One thing we do know is that this little girl's story is more heartbreaking than it is spectacular. As the Indian authorities pieced together what happened, it all started to make much more sense.
It turns out that this little girl may have just been abandoned by her family.
Authorities suspect that it could be because the little girl has cognitive disabilities. Perhaps the girl's family did not have the resources to care for her, so they just left her in the sanctuary.
The fact that she is a girl may also have played a role in her being abandoned. In India, female feticide is very common, with parents often aborting a fetus if it's female. If a girl is born with physical or mental disabilities, as this girl was, there is a high likelihood she will simply be abandoned.
You can see the effects of the cultural practice of feticide through changes in the sex ratio in India. In 1991, there were 947 girls for every 1,000 boys. In 2001, there were only 227 girls for every 1,000 boys. That decline may not seem like much, but given that there should be a more or less even natural distribution, it shows that the practice of aborting female fetuses is statistically measurable in India. That's a chilling thought.
Authorities are now working to track down this girl's parents. They have at least one lead, although it might not turn out to be as solid as they had hoped. A man has stepped forward claiming to be Ehsaas' uncle, but officials refuse to cede custody of the girl until the man can prove his relationship to her.
Bullan Ali said that this 11-year-old girl has lived with him for the past eight years, but he has not yet furnished proof of this. The doctors who care for Ehsaas won't release her without a DNA test proving a blood relationship.
The president of the hospital that is tending to Ehsaas told The Indian Express that he has his doubts about this "uncle."
"The girl did not respond even a bit on seeing him," he said. "If she can start responding to me in just one day, she should react in some manner on seeing her uncle with whom she has lived for eight years. He also did not bring the missing girl's parents, nor was he carrying any picture of her with family members. We have asked him to come up with substantive proof."
For proof, the authorities will accept nothing less than a DNA test.
"We will not give her to anyone without a DNA test to confirm their claim," the president of the hospital said.
So for now, she is being cared for at that hospital, SS Dhapolo, where she is being nursed back to health. The girl suffered from general neglect and malnourishment. Doctors are confident that she will recover from her injuries and lead a normal life.
Right now, the little girl is not speaking. She is only making shrieking noises. It's unclear if she has the ability to learn language or if this is the extent of her capacity to communicate. What is clear is that she has some sort of cognitive issues, but the extent of these are unknown.
Authorities are currently working to find a new, caring home for this girl. They feel confident that with the right support, she can lead a normal, happy life.
An official in the area told The Guardian that Ehsaas was probably left at the animal refuge by her family, and that she wasn't living with the monkeys for very long when she was discovered.
"The truth of the matter is her family didn’t want to look after her," Ranjana Kumari said. "Some families value girls less than boys. They would rather get rid of the girl than spend money on her."
Another local pediatrician has added his voice to the chorus that denies the "raised by monkeys" story. KK Verma told the Hindustan Times that "The girl might have been left in the jungle by her parents because of mental illness. But it was probably not long before police teams rescued her. The theory that she was brought up by monkeys seems absurd."
Still, there's that shrieking thing. Could she have learned that from the monkeys in just a day or two? It may be that she was a real-life Mowgli, if only for a few hours.