Monday, March 5, 2007

A Real Wild Child

The stories of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, tell of a man that was raised by apes as a boy. Growing up, I watched Tarzan on Sunday mornings. Ron Ely looked so well groomed for a dude living with a bunch of chimps. And he spoke such eloquent English too.

This story written by Edgar Rice Burroughs is based on a very real phenomena...

Feral Children.

These children somehow survive being lost, abandoned, and isolated from fellow human beings. It's a miracle that this kids somehow make it alive at all, but the behavioral, psychological, and social affects still baffle scientists. Some feral children are raised by animals, which is still an ongoing debate. Others are kept in such isolation, that they have no idea how to communicate with others after being rescued.

It's strange to think even in this day and age, that a child can be separated from the world. But in parts of the world with more remote settings like dense jungles or deep mountains, this phenomena is still happening today.

Here are a just a few of the more interesting cases I researched:

Rochom P'ngieng - The Jungle Girl
Rochom was lost in the deep jungles of Cambodia at the age of eight. Her parents searched for her for years, but assumed she was dead. On January 13, 2007, she was found when a villager noticed his food had been stolen and caught her. Nineteen years later, 27 year old Rochom P'ngieng had been found. So far, her transition to the modern world has been difficult. She is still nocturnal, cannot speak, and refuses to wear clothes or take showers. Rochom has desired to go back to the jungle, so her parents have to keep a careful watch over her.

Traian Caldarar - The Transylvanian Dog Boy
Traian ran away from home at the age of three when his mother left without him, hoping to escape an abusive husband. When she returned, little Traian was gone. In 2002, seven year-old Traian was found by a shephard. Although it was nearly four years later, the boy was still physically the same size. Experts believe there's no way this boy survived on his own. Traian exhibited many animal-like characteristics including walking on all fours and sleeping under his bed. They believe Traian survived with the help of stray dogs in the countryside. Thankfully, Traian is learning to speak and communicate - probably because he was lost for only three years. Hopefully he'll continue his progress.

Genie - Abuse and Isolation
"Genie's" story is perhaps the most well-known modern case of a child being deprived of social and sensory stimulation. Her mother was partially blind from a detached retina and cataracts, and her father was mentally ill. Her father kept her locked in her room alone, tied to a potty chair. At night, she was bound and then kept in a crib with a lid over it. Finally in 1970, after ten years, thirteen year-old Genie was taken by her mother when she fled their Los Angeles home. Her discovery made worldwide news.

When she was discovered, Genie could understand a few words but could only say "stop it" and "no more." Genie was verbally silent, she couldn't focus her eyes beyond 12 feet, she masterbated constantly, and she weighed only 59 pounds. Scientists wanted to help her, but they also wanted to learn more about how humans acquire language.

With the team of doctors' help, she learned over 100 words and could dress herself. In time, she improved and it seemed as if she was going to recover. However, she couldn't string words together. Her progress hit a wall. After five years, Genie's mom sued for custody. She was then transferred to several institutions. Her father committed suicide not long after Genie had been discovered. Genie is said to still be living in an adult institution to this day somewhere in Southern California.

Kamala and Amala - The Wolf Children
Kamala was eight years-old and Amala was eighteen months in 1920 when they were found by Reverand Joseph Singh. They were living in a cave in Godamuri, India with wolves at the time. Singh took them to his orphanage and tried his best to care for the two girls.

They both had developed callouses on their hands and knees, were nocturnal, and walked on all fours. The girls also barked and howled like wolves. Not only that, but they had developed acute senses of smell and hearing. After a year, the younger Amala showed signs of some progress but died. Kamala learned a vocabulary of about forty words, became housetrained, and eventually learned to walk upright. Nine years later, Kamala fell ill with typhoid fever and died.

The girls were known to NOT be sisters, and Reverand Singh suspected they originally had been abducted by wolves.

The discovery of a feral child faces scientists to confront the fact that we still do not fully understand how our language and social skills develop. It's a fact that the sooner a child gets help, the better off they are. But it's also certain that if a child misses those critical moments in early childhood, the brain hasn't developed all those connections necessary for true language development. In recent brain scans, the feral child's brain is found to be less wrinkled than a normal child's.

And is it really possible for a child to be cared for by wild animals? There are cases of children being raised by monkeys, dogs, and especially wolves. In India, there are just bunch of reported cases of children being raised by wolves. Are a she-wolf's maternal instincts so strong as to care for a human baby?

In 1995, a Kenyan baby named Angel was abandoned in the forest. (Kenya has forests?) A dog found her and carried the baby to her own litter of puppies. The dog's owner found the infant and took her to the hospital. Angel's story is an amazing one, and it illustrates that motherly instinct can cross animal species barriers.

Case in point:
I'm sure there are some humans out there that treat their pets like their own babies.


Metal Mark said...

People who dress their pets up in costumes should be left out in the woods to be raised by wolves. They might learn something.

Jillian said...

LOL - Oh Phoenix - yeah I saw a toy poodle dressed in a leopard outfit the other day. It's owner and the dog jogging.

It's amazing what people do -

I've heard of the Feral Children thing before - I also remember Genie and all of those pictures all over the news.

It was horrible the conditions she lived in. I know that the location of where she is being held currently has never been disclosed so that no one will bother her.

It's amazing how different a person can become, just by living away from society. Not surprising, but just different...

Big Pissy said...

I've read about various Feral Children over the years, but oddly enough, had never heard of Genie.

I find the subject fascinating. How a human being can adapt to those children raised by wolves.

I adore my dogs, but I don't dress them up in "outfits". I will admit to putting a sweater on our Maltese when we have cold weather.

What can I say? I hate to see him shivering! ;-)

Tim said...

humans can adapt to such strange and harsh conditions. look at all the us citizens living so blissfully under the reign of the Bush regime.

angel, jr. said...

Wow, that is interesting.
I'm still wondering how Tarzan learned to speak so well.
When I grew up, I got to watch the Tarzan with Bo Derek. I'm still wondering how Bo Derek learned to speak so well.

Phats said...

Ha i loved the picture at the end!

I wouldn't last more then 2 days in the jungle. without cable, food, and drinks I am lost!

Keshi said...

LOL @last pic!

**The girls also barked and howled like wolves

I do that sometimes. does that make me a wolf-child? :)


The Phoenix said...

metal mark, It's maternal instinct gone awry.

jillian, We are creatures of both nurture and nature. We're also social creatures.

big pissy, A little maltese shivering is a pretty pitiful sight.

tim, Good point.

angel, I think the Tarzan version with Bo Derek didn't have ANY talking in it.

phats, Were you raised by cable TV?

keshi, Yes. You are one wild-child.

BrianAlt said...

I only have one thing to add to this story:

"Hooowoooo oowwooo, ooowooo, howowowoooo, ooooh ooh oh, hoooowwwoooowwoooo!"

David Amulet said...

Gee, thanks for the uplifting story this week, Phoenix.

And yes--the animal costumes were the worst part.

-- david said...

And who can forget the Island of the Blue Dolphins?

No, seriously. I studied Genie in a psychology class in college. Very, very interesting....

KC said...

I've never heard of Genie. All these cases are so very interesting. I'm going to do some more reading about them.

And as much as I've been tempted, I've never actually dressed my cat in a costume.

Reiki 4 Life said...

where do you find this stuff? i think my childhood would have been more pleasant had i been upducted and raised by wolves.

hope all is well. thanks for stopping by :)

ajooja said...

I watched Tarzan too ... always identified with that little Jai dude.

The rest of your post freaks me out. Animal people. (shudder) :)

Jamie Dawn said...

Those poor kids who have been lost without human parental care. It is amazing that they could survive, and even more amazing that they've had the help of animals.
Kids whose own parents have locked them up and kept them from normalcy are the most tragic of all. Their parents should never see the outside of a jail cell for what they've done.
It truly is remarkable how important those first formative years are for children. What they learn in those preschool years really does set the stage for the rest of their lives.

Bruce said...

I worked at a local state institution years ago, where I saw and worked with a handful of kids similar to Genie. It was truly sad to see how they had been treated at home.

Grafs said...

I think this proves ultimately that we are animals. There are lots of kids out there who are not necessarily feral, but totally lacking guidance on how to be good human beings. It looks like psychologists are going to be kept busy for years.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Aw, that is so sad...but sweet at the same time....that animals would care for an infant no matter what the species.

And she doesn't have her own clothes or her own room, but my dog is like my child...I think because I couldn't have any kids of my own. I think almost all females (mammals) have that drive in them to "mother" it the same species or another, they'll take whatever they can get.

Pixie said...

Alas there are some people out there who treat their pets better then their babies....

I used to watch Tarzan back in the day too :)

Reiki 4 Life said...

i meant ABducted...DUH. :P

Karen said...

"I'm sure there are some humans out there that treat their pets like their own babies"...

Yep, granddog is one!

:P fuzzbox said...

The pic of the Dog Boy looks like he might have picked up a little mange. I hope he clears that up.

Vani said..., great subject. i never heard of feral children before, but i can believe it. if you can imagine a world so big, and places that are still outcasts to sad though. i always loved that movie tarzan..hehe.

Perplexio said...

Disney explored this cross-creature phenomoenon with The Ugly Dachshund back in the 60s. And Hans Christian Andersen tackled it with his tale of The Ugly Duckling-- a swan being raised by a family of ducks.

Perhaps there's a Hollywood film here-- "The Ugly Wolf" or "The Ugly Monkey" or something of the like featuring a feral child-- or possibly even a feral adult.

Oh and author Christopher Moore tackled the chronic masturbation issue in The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. A psychiatrist had a receptionist named Chloe who couldn't keep her hands off herself, so the shrink duct-taped oven mitts onto Chloe's hands.

DaBich said...

This is absolutely amazing! I can see how an animal would have the mother instinct and take care of a young child or baby.

ozymandiaz said...

Having been a former feral child I would just like to state that language and social skill are far overrated...
For that matter, I have seen no evidence of either one being practiced anywhere as of late

On My Watch said...

well, this explains my ex-husband.

The Phoenix said...

brianalt, American Werewolf in London!

david, I agree.

stephanie, I'd like to study her case more as well.

KC, I don't see a cat standing for that at all.

m, I'm sure monkeys or wolves have dysfunctional families too.

ajooja, Again with you animal phobia. Sorry.

JD, I think we underestimate the importance of brain development in children under 1.

bruce, In that case, they're better in the care of others.

grafs, We are animals - and when we are dependent on other to care for us when we enter this world.

stacy, You've blogged about that before. You're right, that maternal instinct is so strong. You definitely treat your pups like babies.

The Phoenix said...

pixie, I've noticed that people who are abusive to animals are abusive to people too.

m, I got your meaning!

karen, Good one!

fuzz, I noticed that too. I hope he doesn't lick his own ass either.

vani, which Tarzan version? Bo Derek? Legend of Greystoke? Or Disney?

perplexio, I wonder if the oven mit method would work for those addicted to gambling.

dabich, It really is amazing.

ozy, You need therapy.

Fated said...

I think this has got to be one of the most interesting subjects you have posted on. Very impressive.

the weirdgirl said...

I've watched shows about this and find it both terribly sad fascinating. Especially the "window" of time needed for language development or you lose the ability.

(Speaking of losing it, I thought I had commented on this post last week only to find I hadn't. I am losing my marbles.)

Speaking of marbles, I have a slew of elderly in-laws who cart around tiny dogs in clothes. It's so very very scary.

goldennib said...

Feral children are so interesting. So are humanized animals.

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