The Wolf Boy

In 2009 a five-year-old girl was discovered in the Siberian city of Chita, living in a flat with only dogs and cats for company. The authorities who found the girl in the unheated flat, which also had no sewerage, said that the girl was unable to speak, had never been outside and had been 'brought up' by several dogs and cats. The child was filthy, threw herself at the door barking when carers left the room and had 'clear attributes of an animal'.

monument Mowgli, Priozersk, RussiaCredit: Wikipedia

Love and Care

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, featured the character of the boy Mowgli, who was lost in the jungle and cared for by the Conscientious Bagheera and the well-meaning, but bumbling bear Baloo. In reality, feral children who are brought up deprived of human contact, are extremely impaired, as in general there seems to be a critical period for language development and enculturation.

Enculturation is the process whereby we learn the values, beliefs and requirements of a culture, by being immersed in that culture. Particular emotions called secondary, self-conscious emotions, like: sympathy, empathy, guilt and shame, also only develop with a nurturing caregiver and in concert with a theory of mind, which is a sense of self and the understanding that others have different thoughts and feelings. Many children who grow up in situations of deprivation and neglect, may only develop minimal secondary self-conscious emotions. Feral children without language and the nurturance from a care giver however, have very little hope of even developing a rudimentary sense of self.

Myth

Romulus & Remus(102619)Credit: Wikipedia

Children being brought up by animals is very controversial, with many cases disputed as being myth or legend.  Rome's foundation myth for example, surrounds twin brothers Romulus and Remus being saved by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker.  Then there are numerous fiction accounts of children being raised by animals like Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Miyazaki Hayao's 1997 anime film, Princess Mononoke. 

Raised by Dogs

A Boy and his DogCredit: Flickr no copyright

In 2004, also in Siberia, Russia, a boy of about 7 years of age was discovered in a remote area, being raised by dogs. The child had been abandoned by his parents at 3 months of age. The child acted like a dog, walking on all fours and had no language. The tragic chain of events commenced when the child's mother left the home and then the alcoholic husband also left. The family dog amazingly helped the child to survive.

 

Money Boy

Green MonkeyCredit: Flickr by New Jersy Bird

The 1991 case of John Ssebunya, commenced when he was four years old, when he saw his father shoot his mother. In horror and fear the child fled into the Ugandan Forest, where he later claimed that he was offered and taught to forage food by a pack of green monkeys. When discovered one year later, John had white knees from walking on them. When scientists tested how the child interacted with the monkeys,  John avoided eye contact, which is interpreted as aggression and  approached in the monkey way from the side, with open palms.

 

With Wolves

In 2007 again in Russia, a boy of about 10, with wolf-like habits and toe nails which had developed like claws, was found crouching in a kind of nest of sticks and leaves, he appeared to have no language and did not react to the human voice. It seems he ran around with a pack of wolves and obtained his food with them.

Also in 2007, the heart wrenching story of the Cambodian jungle girl came to light. She had emerged from the jungle in Ratanakiri province, filthy, naked and scarred. The woman who was perhaps in her twenties belonged to the Pnong ethnic minority. A journalist from the Guardian newspaper observed that the woman had deep scars on her left wrist and ankle and speculated that she may have been held in captivity. She preferred to crawl rather than walk upright and had only three words. The man who claimed to be her father, was trying to raise money to send his daughter to a spirit healer, to exorcise the 'jungle spirits', but she kept removing her clothing and running away. In 2010, it was reported that she was slowly learning social habits, aided by members of a Spanish mental health organization, but she preferred to sleep in the chicken coup.

In considering the tragedy of such wild children, it is necessary to mention the critical period hypothesis, which claims that there is an ideal 'window' of time to acquire language in an environment, where langauge is used naturally. Secondly, as part of a culture and society, we experience enculturation, where we are shaped by the norms and values of a culture. Children brought up with wolves, or monkeys, for example adapted to ways of these animals. Research also shows that when are socialized, we generally attain the norms, customs and ideologies in which we live. This is a complex interaction, which involves  a person and their genotype, being  shaped by their unique social world and environment, to create a unique individual.

Dr Dolittle 1967 Film Soundtrack