The Real Life Jungle Book

By Rhys L Griffiths

The Jungle Book (2016) By souce - Fair use

The Jungle Book (2016) By source – Fair use

Ever since I was a child I have been obsessed with the Jungle Book. Obsessed may seem a little strong but I’m sat here wearing my Jungle Book shoes with my Jungle Book bag with a tattoo of Baloo and Mowgli on my left arm. I’ve always engaged with the story of Mowgli the man cub who was raised by wolves in the jungle. Guided by his friends Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear, Mowgli makes his way back to the man village to avoid becoming Shere Khan’s dinner.  I’m not sure why I have always identified with this story as my life has no resemblance to that of Mowgli’s, but there are people out there whose biographies aren’t too dissimilar from that of the Rudyard Kipling tale.

In this blog I’m going to look at 5 reported cases of children being left alone in the wild, many of whom were adopted by other animals. Some are more documented then others so choose to believe what you will, because some of these cases are pretty unbelievable.

Wolves

Photos taken by Rev JAL Singh, later proven to be faked.

Photos taken by Rev JAL Singh, later proven to be faked.

Starting with a case that’s most similar to that of Mowgli, Kamala and Amala were raised by wolves. This is one of the most famous cases of children being raised by wild animals but it is shrouded in controversy. Allegedly Kamala (ages 12) and Amala (18 months) were found in 1920 in a huge abandoned ant-hill squatted by wolves near Godamuri, just west of Calcutta.  An Anglican missionary, named Rev JAL Singh, shot the mother wolf and “rescued” the girls. According to his reports the girls had misshaped jaws, elongated canines and eyes that shone in the dark. Amala passes away a year later but Kamala lived until she was 17, managing to learn how to walk upright and learnt to say roughly 50 words.

However this is heavily doubted by most as the only witness to the girls’ rescue was from Rev JAL Singh himself. A lot of the information we have comes from his diary, which has recently been proven to have been written years after both girls passed away. Images of the girls on all fours were now believed to have been taken after they have both died, where Rev JAL Singh asked others people to pose for him.  It’s believed that they were afflicted with a neurodevelopmental disorder known as Rett syndrome. This syndrome mainly affects females and has devastating effects such as deceleration of the rate of head growth, very limited verbal skills and 50% of sufferers are unable to walk. It’s belived that Rev JAL Singh used the girls to con people into donating money to his orphanage.

Even though this story is believed to be untrue, there are many reports of wolves raising children. One, which is more documented, is Shamdeo from India. Found when he was 4 years old, playing with wolf cubs in the forest of India. His skin was dark, he had hooked fingernails and was fond of eating dirt and hunting chickens. Shamdeo died 13 years after he was found. He never learnt to speak but did manage some sign language.

 

Monkeys

A Ververt monkey. This same kind that looked after John in the Jungle. cc-o pixabay

A Ververt monkey. This same kind that looked after John in the Jungle. cc-o pixabay

John Ssebunya ran away from home at the age of 3 after his father murdered his mother. He ran deep into the Jungle and lived there for about 3 years or so before being discovered by a villager. John lived in the Ugandan jungles from 1988 to 1991, being raised by monkeys. John says he vaguely remembers the monkeys first approaching him and ‘offering him roots and nuts, sweet potatoes and kasava.’

Whereas normally there is a lot of scepticism surrounding feral children (or isolates as they rather be called), his story has been looked at by a whole host of experts, almost all of whom are certain that he is the real deal. He was severely ill when he was found, suffering from intestinal worms. If he had stayed any longer in the wild then he probably wouldn’t have survived. To find out more about Joh’s story read this article.

 

Bears

The Jungle Book 1967)

The Jungle Book (1967)

Baloo the bear takes good care of Mowgli, teaching him the bear necessities of life. Timothy Treadwell (star of the critically acclaimed documentary Grizzly Man) managed to live with the Grizzly bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska for 13 summers. Timothy was founder of the bear protection organisation Grizzly People and spent most of his life dedicated to protecting bears. However at the end of the 13th summer he and his girlfriend were killed by a 28 year old brown bear. Even though bears look cuddly they are still deadly, even if you spend the majority of your life trying to help them.

Two hunters were shocked when in 1767, they captured a girl who attacked them after they had shot her “mother”, a bear. This was in the mountains near the village of Fraumark, Hungary and this unnamed girl had grown up adopted by bears. When she was found she was 18 years old, tall and muscular and was eventually locked in an asylum because she refused clothes and would only eat raw meat and tree bark. Not quite what I’d call the bear necessities of life.

 

Goats

CC-O Pixabay

CC-O Pixabay

Daniel was 12 when he was found in the Andes, Peru. He had been living with goats for the past 8 years surviving by drinking their milk and eating roots and berries. Discovered in 1990, Daniel walked hunched on 4 legs which made his bone growth abnormal and covered his palms and soles with thick calluses. He couldn’t learn human language but did have the ability to communicate with goats.

At first I thought the idea of a child communicating with goats was absurd but after looking in to it found it a lot more plausible. When learning a new language, your brain is using the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex. These are areas of your brain most associated with memory, attention, perception, thought, language and consciousness.  A toddler learns language differently from adults as they pick up on speech patterns and are able to be fluent a lot faster than grownups. So Daniel may not have been able to have conversations with the goats but would be able to understand certain sounds they make and may have been able to imitate them back. Even though Daniel was discovered in 1990 there is no known information about what became of him.

 

Ostriches

Dansa med Strutsar (translates to Dance with Ostriches) by Monica Zar

Dansa med Strutsar (translates to Dance with Ostriches) by Monica Zar

I’ll be honest, I am highly sceptical of this one. It was reported that in the late part of the 20th century, a boy called Hadara was lost by his parents in the Sahara desert. Luckily for him he was looked after by ostriches. He was found again at the age of 12 after allegedly living with them for 10 years. There are lots of reasons I think this story is nonsense. Firstly, apart from the lunacy of the concept, Hadara went on to live a perfectly normal life. He got married and had 2 children. A large majority of children who have spent time with wild animals, find it difficult to adjust to society, especially if they are found after the age of 10. A lot struggle to learn language where as Hadara didn’t have any problem.

In 2000 Hadara’s son Ahmedu, told the story of his father, the Ostrich boy, to a Swedish Author Monica Zak. She compiled a book which consisted of stories told by Ahmedu and Zak’s own fantasy. I’m just not convinced there is anything but pure fantasy in this tale.

How can children become feral?

All behaviour is learnt from the environment through conditioning. For children who spend their infant years surrounded by wild animals, they know no other way to behave. The simple things we take for granted are alien to them. So when they are found after years in the wilderness, they don’t want to sleep in a bed or eat cooked food. It’s nature vs nurture. They may look human but they have are the product of their environment. The longer they spend away from human contact, the harder it becomes for them to live a human adult life. Although Tarzan seemed to do all right for himself.

 

For more Disney science, check out:

Genetics of the Aristocats!

Dumbo – How Could an Elephant Fly?

 

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