Feral child

For other uses, see Wild child.
Mowgli was a fictional feral child in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

A feral child (also called "wild child "') is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age where they have little or no experience of human care, behavior, or, crucially, of human language. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents), and 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 abuse or Utrauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends, typically portrayed as having been raised by animals.


Myths, legends, and fiction have depicted feral children reared by wild animals such as wolves, apes, monkeys, and bears. Famous examples include Romulus and Remus, Ibn Tufail’s Hayy, Ibn al-NafisKamil, Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan, George of the Jungle, and the legends of Atalanta, and Enkidu.

Legendary and fictional children are often depicted as growing up with relatively normal human intelligence and skills and an innate sense of culture or civilization, coupled with a healthy dose of survival instincts. Their integration into human society is made to seem relatively easy. One notable exception is Mowgli, for whom living with humans proved to be extremely difficult.

The mythical children are often depicted as having superior strength, intelligence and morals compared to “normal” humans, the implication being that because of their upbringing they represent humanity in a pure and uncorrupted state, a notion similar to that of the noble savage.

The subject is treated with a certain amount of realism in François Truffaut’s 1970 film L’Enfant Sauvage (UK: The Wild Boy, US: The Wild Child), where a scientist’s efforts in trying to rehabilitate a feral boy meet with great difficulty.[1]


Feral children lack the basic social skills that are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright after walking on fours all their lives, or display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language.[2] The impaired ability to learn a natural language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning, and taken as evidence in favor of the critical period hypothesis.[3]

There is little scientific knowledge about feral children. One of the best-documented cases has supposedly been that of sisters Amala and Kamala, described by Reverend J. A. L. Singh in 1926 as having been "raised by wolves" in a forest in India. French surgeon Serge Aroles, however, has persuasively argued that the case was a fraud, perpetrated by Singh in order to raise money for his orphanage. Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim states that Amala and Kamala were born mentally and physically disabled.[4] Yet other scientific studies of feral children exist, such as the case of Genie.

Ancient reports

The historian Herodotus wrote that Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus I (Psamtik) sought to discover the origin of language by conducting an experiment with two children. Allegedly, he gave two newborn babies to a shepherd, with the instructions that no one should speak to them, but that the shepherd should feed and care for them while listening to determine their first words. The hypothesis was that the first word would be uttered in the root language of all people. When one of the children cried “bekos” (a sound quite similar to the bleating of sheep) with outstretched arms the shepherd concluded that the word was Phrygian because that was the sound of the Phrygian word for bread. Thus, they concluded that the Phrygians were an older people than the Egyptians.[5]

Roman legend has it that Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars, were raised by wolves. Rhea Silvia was a priestess, and when it was found that she had been pregnant and had children, King Amulius, who had usurped her father’s throne, ordered her to be buried alive and for the children to be killed. The servant who was given the order set them in a basket on the Tiber river instead, and the children were taken by Tiberinus, the river god, to the shore where a she-wolf found them and raised them until they were discovered as toddlers by a shepherd named Faustulus. He and his wife Acca Larentia, who had always wanted a child but never had one, raised the twins, who would later feature prominently in the events leading up to the founding of Rome (named after Romulus, who eventually killed Remus in a fight over whether the city should be founded on the Palatine Hill or the Aventine Hill).[6]

Controversy and criticism

Following the 2008 disclosure by Belgian newspaper Le Soir[7] that the bestselling book Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years and movie Survivre avec les loups (“Surviving with Wolves”) was a media hoax, the French media debated the credulity with which numerous cases of feral children have been unquestioningly accepted. Although there are numerous books on these children, almost none of them have been based on archives; the authors instead have used dubious second- or third-hand printed information. According to the French surgeon Serge Aroles, who wrote a general study of feral children based on archives (L’Enigme des Enfants-loups or The Enigma of Wolf-children, 2007), many alleged cases are totally fictitious stories.

Documented or alleged cases

14th to 19th centuries

Oval head and shoulders side portrait of a boy without clothes. He has a medium length hair cut long at the neck, a receding chin, and gazes calmly ahead.
Victor of Aveyron

20th century

21st century

See also

References and notes

  1. "The Wild Child (1970)". Imdb.com. Retrieved 2011-03-01.
  2. Mihai, Andrei (December 1, 2014). "Mind Blowing Cases of Children Raised by Animals". ZME Science. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  3. David Birdsong, "Introduction: Whys and why nots of the critical period hypothesis for second language acquisition". In D. Birdsong (Ed.), Second language acquisition and the critical period hypothesis, Routledge 1999, 3.
  4. Bruno Bettelheim, "Feral Children and Autistic Children", The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 64, No. 5. (Mar., 1959), pp. 455-467.
  5. Herodotus. "The History of Herodotus". George Rawlinson (translator). Retrieved November 29, 2009.
  6. Plutarch. "Romulus". John Dryden (translator). Retrieved November 29, 2009.
  7. "Les aveux de Misha Defonseca".
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Rauber, August Antinous (1888). Homo sapiens ferus: oder, die Bustände der verwilderten und ihre bedeutung für wissenschaft, politik und schule. Leipzig: Julius Bregse.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Chamber, Alexander F. The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought. BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  10. Fantini, Alvino. Language Acquisition of a Bilingual Child: A Sociolinguistic Perspective (To Age Ten). United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters, 1985.
  11. Tulp, Nicolaas (1652). "IX. Iuvenis Balans.". Observationes medicae. IV. Ghent: Apud Ludovicum Elzevirium. pp. 311–313.
  12. 1 2 3 Aroles, Serge (2007). L'énigme des enfants-loups : une certitude biologique mais un déni des archives, 1304-1954. Paris: Publibook. ISBN 2-7483-3909-6.
  13. Aroles, Serge (2004). Marie-Angélique : Haut Mississippi, 1712-Paris, 1775 : survie et résurection d'une enfant perdue dix années en forêt. Les enfants-loups, 1344-1954. 2. Charenton-le-Pont. ISBN 2-915587-01-9.
  14. , "Hany Istók legendája" (Legend of Hany Istók)
  15. Deal, Bama Lutes (2005-04-01). "Chapter 2: Feral Children and Wranitzky's Pantomime-Ballet Das Waldmädchen (1796)" (PDF). The Origin and Performance History of Carl Maria von Weber's Das Waldmädchen (1800). Florida State University. p. 16. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  16. Brian Haughton. "The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser - Wild Child of Europe". Mysterious People. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  17. Bertillion, L. D. (1937). Dobie, J. Frank, ed. "The Lobo Girl of Devil's River". Straight Texas. Texas Folklore Society. XIII: 79-85.
  18. Zak M, Pojken som levde med strutsar, Opal Förlag, 2003.
  19. Zak M, "Möte med Hadaras son", Västsahara, nr. 3-4/2001 (in swedish).
  20. Lupine Lore by Walter Tarello
  21. Vicente Pizarro, Los ultimos dias de Vicente Cau Cau, el nino lobo chileno, The Clinic, 2 de enero de 2010 (in spanish).
  22. "Naked man deepens mystery of jungle girl". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2007-01-22. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  23. "Kidnapped, dumped in the jungle and raised by monkeys: The story of a little girl wrenched from her family and brought up in the wild who only revealed her tale 50 years later as a Bradford housewife". The Daily Mail. 2013-03-30. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  24. Reynolds & Fletcher-Janzen 2004, p. 428.
  25. James, Susan Donaldson (May 7, 2008). "Wild Child 'Genie': A Tortured Life". ABCnews.com. Archived from the original on April 23, 2013. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  26. "Secret of the Wild Child". NOVA. Season 22. Episode 2. PBS. March 4, 1997. OCLC 57894649. PBS (United States), BBC (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2009.
  27. Dash, Mike Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown; Overlook Press, 2000, ISBN 0-87951-724-7.
  28. 1 2 3 Grice, Elizabeth (2006-07-17). "Cry of an infant savage". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  29. "У Оксаны Малой нашлись родной брат и маленькая племянница.".
  30. 1 2 Channel Ukraine. "Oxana Malaya on Ukrainian TV show".
  31. У героини публикации «фактов» оксаны малой, которая выросла в… Собачьей конуре, нашлись родной брат и маленькая племянница, тоже оксана - 2003 follow-up article in Fakty i kommentarii (Ukrainian).
  32. "From monkey boy to choir boy". BBC News. 1999-10-06. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  33. "Abandoned baby 'adopted by chimps'". Agence France-Presse. 2002-04-15. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  34. Osborn, Andrew (August 4, 2004). "Siberian boy, 7, raised by dogs after parents abandoned him". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
  35. 1 2 Channel Ukraine. "Raised by Dogs. Ukrainian TV show".
  36. Jan McGirk (2001-06-20). "Modern-day Mowgli found scavenging with pack of wild dogs". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  37. "Wolf boy is welcomed home by mother after years in the wild". Daily Telegraph. London. 2002-04-14. Retrieved 2014-07-02.
  38. Andrew Osborn (2004-08-04). "Abandoned boy said to have been raised by a dog". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  39. "'Wild Cambodia jungle-girl' found". BBC News. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  40. Watts, Jonathan (2007-01-23). "Wild child?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  41. "Boy found in Uzbekistan after eight years of animal existence". Russian News & Information Agency. 2007-03-01. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  42. "'Werewolf boy' - who snarls and bites - on the run from police after escaping Moscow clinic". Daily Mail. 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2007-12-22.
  43. DeGregory, Lane (2008-08-04). "The Girl in the Window". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  44. DeGregory, Lane; Melissa Lyttle. "The Girl in the Window". Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  45. DeGregory, Lane (2008-08-10). "The Girl in the Window: Authorities Had Discovered the Rarest and Most Pitiable of Creatures: A Feral Child.". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  46. Cockcroft, Lucy (2008-02-28). "Russian 'bird-boy' discovered in aviary". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
  47. Tony Halpin; Jenny Booth (May 27, 2009). "Feral girl in Siberian city of Chita was brought up by cats and dogs". Times. London.
  48. 1 2 "Russian Police Find Feral Girl In Siberia". Planet Ark. 2009-05-28.
  49. Ruhani Kaur,, Lhendup G Bhutia. "Mizoram's Wild Flower". Open Magazine. Retrieved 20 August 2012.


External links

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