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Are the Stories of Children Raised by Wolves and Other Animals True?

Stories of feral children raised by wolves or other animals are a staple of mythology. According to legend, Romulus and Remus, the two legendary founders of Rome were raised by wolves. And feral children figure in many works of fiction, such as Kipling’s the Jungle Book and the Tarzan series.

One might dismiss these stories as mere superstition or legend,. For example, some scholars suggest that the she wold in the Romulus story was a prostitute because in that is what they were called in Latin slang. Certainly most stories of children raised by wolves are simply improbable fair ales, except for the fact that they are prevalent in almost every human culture, and some appear to have a basis in fact. In fact, there have been some recent real life examples that suggest that the stories have a basis in fact. For example, a History Channel documentary told of one young boy was young boy was found abandoned in the dead city of Chernobyl. He was being cared for a by a pack of wild dogs that roam that nuclear-poisoned city.

The documentary talked about how the child had been taken from the dogs and placed with a human foster family. The social worker, the family and the child were featured. The child had not learned to talk and had only slowly started to lose some of his dog like behaviors.

Although being raised by a pack of dogs may seem a little more plausible than being raised by wild wolves, the principle is the same which suggests that it is not impossible. And we do not have to look to the legendary past to find eye witness accounts of this strange phenomenon of feral children.

Raised by Wolves
Raised by Wolves

Some similar accounts appeared in the following article first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864:

Boy Raised by Dogs

Children Raised by Wolves and Dogs

A Story Out of India About Feral Children

This subject is one which will not be unwelcome to those whose faith in the myths of Roman history has been dissipated by Niebuhr and others: they may still believe the story of Romulus and Remus and the wolf. The Honourable Captain Egerton, in a communication from India,says: ‘Colonel Sleeman told me one of the strangest stories I overheard relating to some children, natives of this country (Oude),carried away and brought up by wolves. He is acquainted with five instances of this, in two of which he has both seen the children and knows the circumstances connected with their recapture from the animals. It seems that wolves are very numerous about Cawnpore and Lucknow, and that children are constantly carried off by them.

Most of these have, of course, served as dinners for their captors, but some have been brought up and educated by them after their own fashion.Some time ago, two of the king of Oude’s sowars (mounted gendarmes),riding along the banks of the Goomptje, saw three animals come down to drink. Two were evidently young wolves, but the third was as evidently some other animal. The sowars rushed in upon them, captured the three,and to their great surprise found that one was a small naked boy. He was on all-fours; like his companions; had callosities on his knees and elbows, evidently caused by the attitude in moving about; and bit and scratched violently in resisting the capture. The boy was brought up in Lucknow, where he lived some time, and may, for aught I know, believing still. He was quite unable to articulate words, but had dog-like intellect—quick at understanding signs, and so on.

Another infant found under the same circumstances, lived with two English people for some time. He learned at last to pronounce the name of a lady who was kind to him, and for whom he shewed some affection; but this intellect was always clouded, and more like the instinct of a dog than the mind of a human being.

There was another more wonderful, but hardly so well-authenticated, story of a boy who never [pg 123]could get rid of a strong wolfish smell, and who was seen, not long after his capture, to be visited by three wolves, which came evidently with hostile intentions, but which, after closely examining him—he seeming not the least alarmed—played with him, and some nights afterwards brought their relations, making the number of visitors amount to five—the number of cubs which composed the litter from which he had been taken.

There is no account of any grown-up person having been found among the wolves. Probably, after a certain time, the captives may have got into a set of less scrupulous wolves, not acquainted with the family: the result is obvious.’

Other Animals

Incredibly, there are a number of documented cases of children raised by wolves and dogs, many of them from Russia. Here is a video documentary of a girl that was abandoned by her alcoholic parents and raised by the mongrel farm dogs. When rescued, she walked on all fours and barked like a dog to communicate. Examples such as this tell us that language is not innate but learned, which may be relevant to building conlangs or artificial languages.

Wikipedia has a number of articles about many other children raised by all kinds of animals, including the sad true case of Sujit Kumar, a child raised by chickens in Fiji. At the age of 29 he still pecked at his food and perched like a chicken. Other accounts tell of children raised by monkeys, bears, jackals and even ostriches: (see Feral for more information).

Fact is truly stranger than fiction. Of course, fiction can be pretty strange, and funny too. Here is a site claiming to document the life of Bee Boy, a child raised by – you guessed it – bees. The story is of course just clever marketing for a well known cereal.

Relationship Between Humans and Wolves
Relationship Between Humans and Wolves

Can Children be Raised by Wolves and Other Animals?

Based on the historical accounts, including some recent examples, it appears that some children have been adopted and cared for by wild animals and raised by wolves. This is an extremely rare phenomenon, since most human children are not abandoned in the wild, and the natural instinct of wild animals is to ether given the little human a wide berth or to eat them. But it happens rarely, and perhaps one such event – the Romulus and Remus legend – may have actually changed the course of human history by leading to the formation of Rome and its indelible mark on current society.

But how is this possible? In my view the phenomenon of children raised by wolves approximates the way in which we humans adopt orphaned animals and how these animals imprint on us, and believe that we are their parents. The most likely explanation is that a similar process can operate in reverse, with a human baby imprinting on its animal mother.