feral children cases

Feral Children  - The Feral Child - An Introduction

A 'feral' or wild child is a human child who has allegedly been brought up in the wild, separate from society and isolated from contact with other people. Well documented and seemingly trustworthy accounts of feral children are rare, but do exist, though many researchers dismiss them as folklore, with no basis in fact. There are various causes for the phenomenon, it may be the result of the child being abandoned by parents, or being intentionally isolated from society, perhaps in a locked room (like Kaspar Hauser), or the child may even have been stolen by wild animals. Some cases, like the strange story of  Memmis Le Blanc
  the 'Wild Girl of Champagne', remain perplexing, whilst others, like the Wolf Girl of Devil's River, would seem to be largely folkloric.

There are a number of stories, myths and legends concerning feral children, the best known being Romulus and Remus - the mythical founders of Rome, who were suckled by a wolf when infants. Others include Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli, from The Jungle Book, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan. It is possible that some of these stories were based on actual instances of children found living in the wild.

Wolf Children

Children brought up by animals in the wild can be nurtured by a perplexing variety of creatures including bears, dogs, monkeys, goats, sheep, panthers and even gazelles. The two children, Kamala, aged eight and Amala, aged 18 months, behaved exactly like little wild animals. They slept during the day only waking after the rising of the moon, walked on all-fours, ate raw meat, and even bit and attacked other children if they felt threatened. The youngest child, Amala, died within a year, but Kamala lived for nine years in an orphanage, gradually losing her animal nature until she died of illness aged of 17. 

Wild Peter & Victor, the Wild Child of Aveyron

In 1724, a 'naked, brownish, black-haired creature' was caught in the woods near the German town of Hamelin. The 'creature' was found to be a feral boy of about twelve, who at first behaved like a wild animal eating birds and vegetables raw, before becoming more docile. Given the name Peter the boy was made the possession of King George I of England where he was later taken. In England he spent most of his time either lying by the fire or roaming through the countryside. Peter never learned to talk and lived the rest of his life in England until his death in 1785. It was later discovered that Peter had only been living wild for about a year before his discovery and had actually left home because of physical abuse by his father. It has been suggested that autism may explain his behaviour.

A boy of about 12 years of age, who later became known as Victor, was found foraging for food in the woods near Aveyron, southwestern France in 1799. It was soon obvious that Victor's was a boy only in appearance, he ate raw and rotten food, sat rocking back and forth for hours, and could not distinguish between hot and cold. Despite intensive study by noted French Physician Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard, Victor only ever learned two words, lait (milk) and Oh Dieu (oh God), and died in 1828 at the age of 40.

The case of Victor demonstrates that feral children have long been of particular interest to the scientific, medical and educational community. Study of such children can cast light on the differences and similarities between human and animal natures, the process of how language is acquired, and whether certain human characteristics are learned or genetic. Unfortunately we know practically nothing of any feral child's life in the wild before their capture. There are also no cases on record of a successful attempt to integrate a feral child back into society if he or she has lived in the wild from a very young age.  Due to this lack of ability to adapt to civilisation most feral children die at a relatively young age. 

Sources & Further Reading

Candland, D.K. Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature. Oxford University Press Inc, USA. 1996.

Lopez, B.H. Of Wolves & Men. Scribners. 1978.

Maclean, C. The Wolf Children: Fact or Fantasy? Penguin Books Ltd. 1979.

Malson, L. Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature. Monthly Review Press, U.S. 1995

Newton, M. Savage Boys and Wild Girls: A History of Feral Children. Faber and Faber. 2002.

Shattuck, R. The Forbidden Experiment: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron. Kodansha America. 1994.

Singh, Rev. J. A. L. & Zingg, Prof. R. M. Wolf-Children and Feral Man. Harper & Brothers. 1942.

Copyright 2006 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.

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