Most people think that feral children live solely in make-believe stories and myths. Although they’re rare (only about a hundred total cases have ever been documented), feral children are in fact, real.
By definition, a feral child is “a human child who has lived away from human contact from a very young age, and has little or no experience of human care, loving or social behavior, or, crucially, of human language. “
The first and most famous case of a feral child was that of Wild Peter. He lived in Hanover, Germany, and was found in 1724 at the age of 12, living off plants, climbing trees like an animal, and unable to speak.
Feral children have been around for hundreds of years, but here are the most peculiar modern cases of feral children living among us (and among animals).
This feral child’s story is one of the most remarkable. In 1954 at 5 years of age, Marina was kidnapped from a village in Colombia and left by her kidnappers in the jungle. She allegedly ended up befriending and living with a family of capuchin monkeys—and becoming one of them.
She claims that she ate berries and roots, slept in holes in trees, played and groomed with them, and even walked on all fours like they did. They cared for her like their own and even tended to her when she got a bad case of food poisoning. She lived with the monkeys for five years, she estimates, and had completely lost her language when she was discovered by hunters.
After a bit of misfortune and mistreatment, Marina ended up working as a nanny in the U.K. She eventually married and had children. Her life experiences are recounted in her book The Girl With No Name, which she wrote with her daughter.
Oxana was born on November 1983 and was found in 1991 in Ukraine living with dogs in a kennel. Oxana’s parents were negligent, alcoholic, and unable to care for her. One night when she was 3 years old, they left her outside in the cold.
She saved her own life by crawling into the farm kennel and keeping warm by curling up with the wild stray dogs that occupied the streets.
She found a home with the dogs and learned their behaviors and mannerisms. She ran on all fours, barked and bared her teeth, panted, sniffed at her food before she ate it, and acquired acute, dog-like senses of hearing, smell, and sight.
When she was discovered, Oxana only knew the words “yes” and “no.” Through intensive therapy she was able to learn the basic social and verbal skills of a 5-year-old. Now, as an adult, she lives in Odessa and works with farm animals.
Kamala and Amala
In October 1920, two girls—Kamala, age 8, and Amala, age 18 months—were found in a wolves’ den near Godamuri, west of Calcutta, India, by the minister of a nearby mission unit. When they were captured, the girls didn’t look human, were physically deformed, and had the characteristics of wolves.
The tendons and joints in their arms and legs were shortened, they had misshapen jaws, elongated canines, walked on all fours, and even had eyes that shone in the dark like dogs’ eyes. Living with humans proved hard for these girls. They often slept curled up together, growled, ate nothing but raw meat, and howled. Like other feral kids, they developed acute senses of hearing, sight, and smell.
Unfortunately, Amala died a year after she was discovered, but Kamala survived until 17 years of age, by which point she had learned to walk upright, spoke about 50 words, and started eating a human diet.
John’s story is a harrowing tale. In 1988, at age 3, he ran away from home when he witnessed his father murdering his mother. He fled to the jungle and found a home living with monkeys. At 6 years of age, he was found by a Ugandan villager and brought back to his village.
In the three years of living among the monkeys, he developed characteristics and traits of his monkey friends. His knees were white from walking on them; his nails were long and round; he ate roots, nuts, and sweet potatoes; and he had also developed a severe case of intestinal worms.
He fondly recalls that the monkeys befriended him within two weeks in the jungle and taught him to travel with them, how to search for food, and how to climb trees. John eventually learned how to speak and proved to have a magnificent singing voice. He currently tours in the U.K. with the 20-member Pearl of Africa Children’s Choir.
In 1972, a 4-year-old boy was discovered in a forest in India. He was playing with wolf cubs and even displayed the same wolf-like behaviors and characteristics as Kamala and Amala. He had long, hooked fingernails, calluses on his hands and knees, sharpened teeth, and suffered from a craving for blood.
He loved chicken hunting as much as he loved the darkness. He also had close friendships with dogs and jackals. He was taken to the village of Narayanpur and lived among the villagers, who named him Shamdeo. He never learned how to speak but was able to learn sign language. He slowly weaned off raw meat and transitioned to a more human diet.
In 1978, he entered Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in Lucknow, where he was renamed Pascal and was visited by English travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin. He died in 1985.
Prava, the Bird Boy
In 2008, a 7-year-old boy named Prava was found and rescued by Russian healthcare workers. He was living in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment with his 31-year-old mother and dozens of birds. His mother, suffering from mental illness, neglected him by treating him not like a child but like one of her pet birds.
She didn’t physically harm him or leave him without food; she just never spoke to him. He was confined to the room with bird cages, bird feed, and droppings. His only friends and companions were the birds, and as a result, he never learned to speak, only chirp. When he was misunderstood he would wave his arms and hands like birds do with their wings.
Eventually, his mother released him to the state, and he was moved to a psychological care facility, where he remains today. Doctors continue to rehabilitate him.
In 1912, a 2-year-old boy was stolen from his parents by a leopardess near Assam, south of the Himalayan Mountains. Three years later he was found by a hunter, living with the leopard mother and her children.
When he was found, he displayed all of the characteristics of a leopard: He ran on all fours (it’s reported that he could run on all fours as fast as an adult man), his knees and palms had hard calluses, his toes were upright almost at right angles to his instep, and his hands, toes, and thumbs were covered in tough skin.
Human contact was problematic, and anyone or anything that came near him was bitten and torn up. He could not speak, only grunt and growl. Fortunately, he was able to assimilate back into human society and later learned to speak and walk more upright.