Feral children are instances when children or a single child grow up in an environment isolated from other humans, never learning social behaviors, symbols, and language. Children often become feral after being abandoned or running away. Perhaps the most well-known feral child was the fictional Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a boy who was raised by animals in the jungles of India. In reality there have been hundreds of feral children found in all parts of the world.
1.Peter the Wild boy (1725-1785)
Peter was a mentally handicapped Hanoverian of unknown parentage, who in 1725 was found living wild in the woods near Hamelin, the town of Pied Piper legend. Living off the forest’s flora, he walked on all fours, behaved like an animal and could not be taught to speak.
Once found, he was brought to the Kingdom of Great Britain by order of George I, whose interest had been aroused in the unfortunate youth during a visit to his Hanover homeland. An extraordinary amount of curiosity and speculation concerning Peter was excited in London, and the craze was the subject of a biting satire by Jonathan Swift, and of another entitled The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation, which has been attributed to Swift and John Arbuthnot; Daniel Defoe also wrote on the subject, and James Burnett, Lord Monboddo in his Origin and Progress of Language presents the “Idiot Peter” as an illustration of his theory of the evolution of the human species.
The Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach, took an interest in Peter’s welfare after the initial public curiosity began to subside and in 1726 she arranged for Dr Arbuthnot to oversee his education. All efforts to teach him to speak, read or write failed, though he is said to have developed a love of music. After George I’s death in 1727 Peter was given in charge to a schoolmistress, Mrs King of Harrow and then to a farmer, James Fenn of Axter’s End farm, Northchurch, Hertfordshire, with an annual allowance provided by Queen Caroline. Peter remained at this farm until Fenn’s death when his care was taken over by Fenn’s brother, Thomas of Broadway farm. He was to live here for the remainder of his life only venturing further afield once.
In the late summer of 1751 Peter went missing from Broadway Farm and could not be traced. Advertisements were placed in newspapers offering a reward for his safe return. On 22 October 1751 a fire broke out in the parish of St Andrew’s in Norwich. As the fire spread, the local bridewell became engulfed in smoke and flame. The frightened inmates were hastily released and one aroused considerable curiosity on account of his remarkable appearance, excessively hirsute and strong, and the barely human sounds he uttered, which led some to describe him as an orang-utan. Some days later he was identified as Peter the Wild Boy, possibly through a description of him in the London Evening Post. He was returned to Thomas Fenn’s farm and had a special leather collar with his name and address made for him to wear in future should he ever stray again.
He lived to an advanced age, was seen by Lord Monboddo in 1782, and died in 1785.
2. The Wild Boy of Avyon
Victor was a feral child who apparently lived his entire childhood naked and alone in the woods before being found wandering the woods near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France, in 1797. He was captured, but soon escaped, after being displayed in the town. He was additionally periodically spotted in 1798 and 1799.
However, on January 8, 1800, he emerged from the forests on his own. His age was unknown but citizens of the village estimated that he was about twelve years old. His lack of speech, as well as his food preferences and the numerous scars on his body, indicated that he had been in the wild for the majority of his life. While the townspeople received him kindly, it was only a matter of time before word spread and the boy was quickly taken for examination and documentation.
3. Kasper Houser
On 26 May 1828, a teenage boy appeared in the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He carried a letter with him addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. Its heading read: Von der Bäierischen Gränz / daß Orte ist unbenant / 1828 (“From the Bavarian border / The place is unnamed [sic] / 1828″). The anonymous author said that the boy had been given into his custody, as an infant, on 7 October 1812, and that he had instructed him in reading, writing and the Christian religion, but had never let him “take a single step out of my house”. The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman “as his father was”, and invited the captain to either take him in or hang him.
There was another short letter enclosed, purporting to be from his mother to his prior caretaker. It stated that his name was Kaspar, that he was born on 30 April 1812, and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead. In fact this letter was found to have been written by the same hand as the other one (whose line “he writes my handwriting exactly as I do” led later analysts to assume that Kaspar himself had written both of them.)
A shoemaker named Weickmann took the boy to the house of Captain von Wessenig, where he would repeat only the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” and “Horse! Horse!” Further demands elicited only tears, or the obstinate proclamation of “Don’t know.” He was taken to a police station, where he would write a name: Kaspar Hauser. He showed that he was familiar with money, could say some prayers, and read a little; but he answered few questions, and his vocabulary appeared to be rather limited.
He spent the following two months in Vestner Gate Tower, in the care of a jailer named Andreas Hiltel. Despite what many later accounts would say, he was in good physical condition and could walk well; for example, he climbed over ninety steps to his room. He was of a “healthy facial complexion” and approximately sixteen years old, but appeared to be intellectually impaired. Mayor Binder, however, claimed that the boy had an excellent memory and was learning quickly. Various curious people visited him, to his apparent delight. He refused all food except bread and water.
At first it was assumed that he had been raised half-wild in forests, but during many conversations with Mayor Binder, Hauser told a different version of his past life, which he later also wrote down in more detail. According to this story, he had, for as long as he could think back, spent his life totally alone in a darkened cell about two metres long, one metre wide, and one and a half high, with only a straw bed to sleep on and a horse carved out of wood for a toy.
He claimed that he had found bread and water next to his bed each morning. Periodically the water would taste bitter, and drinking it would cause him to sleep more heavily than usual. On such occasions, when he had awakened, his straw had been changed, and his hair and nails had been cut. Hauser claimed that the first human being with whom he had ever had contact had been a mysterious man who had visited him not long before his release, always taking great care not to reveal his face to him. This man, Hauser said, had taught him to write his name by leading his hand. After having learned to stand and to walk, he had then been brought to Nuremberg. Furthermore, the stranger allegedly had taught him to say the phrase “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” (in Bavarian dialect), but Hauser claimed that he had not understood what these words meant.
This tale, still famous today, aroused great curiosity and made Hauser an object of international attention. Rumours arose that he was of princely parentage, possibly of Baden origin, but there were also claims that he was an impostor.
4. Genie (1957-present)
Genie is the pseudonym for a feral child who spent nearly all of the first thirteen years of her life locked inside a bedroom strapped to a potty chair. She was a victim of one of the most severe cases of social isolation in American history. Genie was discovered by Los Angeles authorities on November 4, 1970.
Genie’s discovery was compared extensively with that of Victor of Aveyron, about whom a film was made, The Wild Child. Psychologists, linguists and other scientists exhibited great interest in the case due to its perceived ability to reveal insights into the development of language and linguistic critical periods. Initially cared for in the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Genie later became the subject of acrimonious debate over where and with whom she should eventually live, moving between the houses of the researchers who studied her, to foster homes, to her mother’s house, and finally to a sheltered home for adults with disabilities in California. Funding and research interest in her abilities eventually ceased. In 1994 a book was written about her case by Russ Rymer.
5. Oxana (1983-)
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. 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.
Today, Oxana can speak and many of her behavior problems have been remedied. Whether she will be able to form strong relationships and feel part of any human community remains to be seen. In the British Channel 4 documentary, as well in the Portuguese SIC channel documentary, her doctors stated that it is unlikely that she will ever be properly rehabilitated into “normal” society.
As of 2010 at the age of 27, 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.
Named after an incarnation of the god Rama, this boy was first reported in 1973 in the Uttar Pradesh region of India, at roughly 12 years old, and as living an amphibian lifestyle in the Kuano river. He was captured in 1979 and taken to a nearby village. He only partly adapted to a conventional lifestyle, still preferring raw food, walking with an awkward gait, and spending most of his time alone in nearby rivers and streams. He died in 1982 after approaching a woman who was frightened by him, and who badly scalded Ramachandra with boiling water. Historian Mike Dash speculates that Ramachandra’s uncharacteristically bold approach to the woman was sparked by a burgeoning sexual attraction coupled with his ignorance of cultural mores and taboos.
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 P’ngieng (born 1979) 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. However, some reporters and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) questioned this explanation and suggested that she instead might be an unrelated woman who had been held in captivity.