There’s no such thing as a happy story about feral kids. Though films like The Jungle Book make life among the animals looks like carefree fun, the most famous feral humans have been left tragically scarred by their ordeal. Throughout modern history, several kids have for whatever reason been left to fend for themselves in the harsh world around us.
In each of these cases, the children learned to survive by relying on animals. They adopted the characteristics, diet, and behavior of whatever wild animal they spend the most time with. Even today, children find themselves lost among the animals for years at a time, only to be rescued almost against their will. These experiences have an indelible impact on the survivors who come out the other side. Even though they start with an animal taking pity on a poor, lost child, few of these stories have fairy tale endings.
Here is a group of children who managed to survive insurmountable odds in spite of the fact that they had no training and virtually no chance of surviving on their own. Though the real history of feral children is darker than the movies would have you believe, these stories of survival are no less astonishing.
Living with Monkeys Was the Easiest Part of Marina Chapman’s Life
In 1959, Marina Chapman was taken from her rural Colombian home and driven into the jungle. There, she was abandoned for apparently no reason. After hours of wandering and weeping, she managed to stumble upon a group of what are thought to be capuchin monkeys. Chapman followed the clan for days, learning to scavenge like they did, and surviving thanks to their help. At one point, one of the elder members of the family even helped save Chapman’s life when she got a foodborne illness.
Over time, Chapman began to miss human contact. Unfortunately, the first people she chose to reveal herself to sold her to a brothel. It was years before she was able to escape into the city streets by working as a domestic servant in people’s homes. Fortunately, these days Chapman is at the head of an extensive family of her own, having put the horrors of her life behind her.
To this day, Chapman says that she owes her life to the little family of monkeys that helped keep her alive.
Though Found and ‘Rehabilitated,’ Oxana Malaya Still Has More in Common with Animals
In 1986, three-year-old Ukrainian Oxana Malaya was left outside during a snowstorm by a pair of alcoholic parents. Young Oxana managed to walk into a nearby hovel where she was taken in by a pack of dogs. For some reason, her parents never actually went to retrieve their daughter, and the young girl was raised by the domestic canines for the next five years, until a neighbor reported the situation to authorities.
These days, the 33-year-old works with cows on a farm at the mental facility where she resides. Though she’s become somewhat comfortable with people, telling jokes and speaking regularly, she reportedly still favors the company of creatures to people.
A Feral Girl In India Was Raised By Monkeys
In 2017, authorities in India found a girl who couldn’t speak or behave like humans living among a troop of monkeys. The girl was spotted by an inspector at the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, and has since been dubbed the Mowgli girl after the main character from the Jungle Book. When he approached the girl, she was unable to understand or speak to him, and “seemed comfortable with the apes,” according to an Indian newspaper.
The girl, who appeared to be about eight years old when she was discovered, is allegedly frightened by the sight of other people and even walks like a monkey. Authorities are unsure who she is, where she came from, and how long she’s been living among the animals.
John Ssebunya Survived a Civil War in a Ugandan Jungle Thanks to Some Monkeys
In the mid-1980s, as Uganda was in the throes of a violent civil war, young John Ssebunya was a mere toddler of two. One night, in a fit of rage, John’s father killed his mother, prompting the terrified child to flee into the jungle. There he stayed for the next year, surviving only thanks to the benevolence of a group of monkeys.
A few days into his feral life, Ssebunya was approached by a small family of monkeys who offered him roots, nuts, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Ssebunya also learned his behavior from the monkeys (for example, as a boy, he’d rarely meet people’s eyes). Fortunately, though, John survived and was raised by a new family. And though he’s happy where he is, John explains that he feels fortunate to have been found by the group of monkeys who would become his short-lived family.
“I am grateful, yes, I am,” he says. “Because… not because of love from them, from the monkeys. But because what they did made it possible for me to be loved by other people, by humans.”
Ng Chhaidy Was Missing for Nearly 40 Years Before She Was Found
When she was just a little girl in 1974, Ng Chhaidy and her cousin Beirakhu wandered out into the jungle next to their village in India. Beirakhu was found some time later, spinning tales of a mysterious woman who lived in the woods and helped the kids survive. Though a search was mounted, neither the woman nor young Chhaidy was found… until 2012, after more than 38 years apart from her family.
In 2012, Chhaidy was found in the adoptive care of a woman living in Myanmar. She’d been found living naked in a cemetery four years earlier and had been in the woman’s home ever since. When she reunited with her mother, Chhaidy was (and is) a happy woman, though her personality is remarkably childlike. She’s still able to help her mother with chores, and she loves playing with the village kids.
The Young Woman Known as Genie Was Raised by the Worst Kind of Animal
Okay, this is kind of a cheat, because the woman who was identified as Genie by the people who researched her wasn’t technically raised by animals. Technically.
When authorities in California first caught wind of Genie in 1970, it was only because her mother walked into the wrong doctor’s office and a physician noticed something fishy about the kid’s behavior. As it happens, welfare employees discovered that her father regularly kept the girl tied to a chair in a silent room from the time she was a toddler. She was beaten if she cried, spoke, or made any noise.
As a result, the young woman was unable to make any kind of noise or interaction for a large majority of her life. The time period in which she was found combined with diminishing interest in her story meant that Genie slipped into bureaucratic obscurity shortly after her initial brush with fame.
The Study of Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron, Impacted the Future of Linguistics
In 1797, 12-year-old Victor was found wandering the wilderness of France. He was captured twice over the next year, but he escaped quickly both times. In 1800, the 15-year-old emerged from the woods of his own accord.
Because schools for the deaf tended to specialize in helping people speak, the mute teenager was sent to a facility for deaf people. There, he was taken into the care of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who began to work with the boy. Unfortunately, Victor proved nearly incapable of learning to speak (he only ever learned two words). Itard’s studies were the first indication that the human brain has a natural cutoff in which the fundamentals of language needed to be imprinted.
Oh, also, a monk once took Victor out in the snow when the kid was bare-assed, apparently for reasons of scientific inquiry (suuuuuuuuure.) Surprisingly, though, Victor loved it, running and jumping through the snow happily.