Kids Gone Wild: Shocking Stories of Feral Children

Gazelle Boy

In 1960, Basque anthropologist Jean-Claude Auger received a tip from nomads in the Sahara that a child was running free in the desert. He went to investigate, and sure enough, he spotted a boy galloping with the gazelles. Auger watched as the kid sniffed and licked to communicate and ate roots, lizards, and worms just like the rest of the herd.

Auger returned two years later with a Spanish army captain to capture the child. But when they tried to chase him down, he outran their Jeep. In 1966, Auger made one last attempt to nab the child with a helicopter and a net, but even an aerial attack was no match for Gazelle Boy.

John of the Monkeys

In 1988, a 4-year-old boy named John Ssebunya watched his father shoot and kill his mother. Fearing for his life, John ran into the Ugandan forest and joined a pack of green vervet monkeys, one of the few mammals that accepts other species into their fold.

When John was found more than a year later, he had thick hair covering his body, he walked on his knees and knuckles, and he couldn't tolerate cooked food.

But after a Christian orphanage in the town of Masaka adopted him, he slowly acquired more human traits. Now age 24, John has learned to speak and walk upright. He even sings and plays guitar. And in 1999, he traveled to Europe with the famed Pearl of Africa children's choir. (Image: BBC - Children in Wolves' Clothing)

Doggy Day Care

In 1996, 4-year-old Ivan Mishukov ran away from his abusive parents to become one of the 2 million homeless children living on the streets in Russia.

After begging for food and rifling through garbage bins for leftovers, he'd share his scraps with a pack of stray dogs. In turn, the dogs offered Ivan protection and warmth on Moscow's bitterly cold nights and made him their leader.

Two years later, police captured the boy by luring him into the back of a restaurant kitchen. Snarling and biting, he was taken ito a children's home, where he quickly began to adjust to the human world and started school. Now, Ivan lives a fairly normal life, although he still dreams of dogs. (Photo: Marcianitos Verdes)

The Feral Poster Child of the Enlightenment

When 12-year-old Victor emerged from the woods of Aveyron in France, he couldn't speak, ate raw meat, and had scars all over his body.

It was 1799, the height of the Enlightenment, and Victor soon found himself at the center of a philosophical debate surrounding the nature of man. Is man born good, only to be corrupted by society? Or is he born selfish and cruel, in need of society?

A doctor named Jean Itard devoted himself to Victor, believing that if he could teach the boy to speak and show compassion, it would prove that education can temper the beast in all of us. Unfortunately for Itard, Victor never made much progress.

Crying Wolf: Feral Children Who Faked It

A Pack of Lies

In 1997, a woman named Monique "Misha" Defonesca published her memoirs about surviving the Holocaust. According to the book, the Nazis killed her parents in Brussels when she was just 7 years old. Completely alone, Misha set out on foot to cross war-torn Europe. She eventually ended up in Ukraine, thanks to a pair of trusty wolves who traveled with her for months, possibly years.

The story would have been an amazing tale of survival had it not been totally fabricated. A Belgian newspaper investigated the details and discovered that Misha's real name was Monique De Waal. Although her parents did die in the war, she was actually raised by her grandfather. Misha later came clean and explained to the Belgian press that the story was her "reality" and her "way of surviving."

Link: Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years

The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

As the story went, two young girls were found near Calcutta in 1926 by Rev. Joseph Singh, a rector at the local orphanage. Singh wrote in his diary that they had unnaturally long teeth and an aversion to the sun, howled at the moon, ate out of bowls on the ground, and saw clearly in the dark. He tried to civilize the girls, Amala and Kamala, but to no avail.

Although the story became famous, scholars now doubt its veracity. For starters, Singh's diaries were written years after the events supposedly took place. Also, photographs of the girls on all four acting like wolves were found to have been staged years after their deaths. In all likelihood, Singh faked his "work" with Amala and Kamala to raise money for his orphanage. (Photo: T. Honjo / Wikipedia)

The article above, written by Eric Furman and Linda Rodriguez, is reprinted with permission from Scatterbrained section of the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' website and blog for more fun stuff!


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I too am perplexed at the "fake" Basque comment. Clarification please?

If you examine the anthropological literature on this subject, you find that most of these so-called "feral" children are either abandoned and living on the edges of their society, or deliberate hoaxes to "prove" some point in the nature-nurture debates.
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