At a very young age, John Ssebunya of Uganda disappeared into the forest and became the boy raised by monkeys. It's unclear exactly how old Ssebunya was when he started a new life among vervet monkeys, and it's believed he spent less than a year with them. During that time, he survived by watching the primates and mimicking their behavior. The Uganda feral child was discovered by a villager in 1991. By that point, the transformation was truly startling. Ssebunya acted more like a monkey than a human.
John Ssebunya is now a very different person. But his behavior was, and still is, influenced by the formative months he spent with primates. He had a difficult time learning to walk and talk, and even smiling was an adjustment. Eventually, he overcame those difficulties, and began sharing his incredible true story about surviving in the wilderness.
During the 1980s, Uganda was embroiled in a brutal civil war rife with human rights violations. Ssebunya was born in the midst of the conflict. He lived with his parents until he was two or three – and then his father most likely murdered his mother.
Ssebunya fled to the jungle, a move that may have saved him from becoming a child soldier. As for his father, he was later discovered hanged.
Ssebunya later recalled how he first made contact with the vervet monkeys. He was alone in the jungle for a few days before they approached him, offering him food like nuts and sweet potatoes.
The monkeys were very cautious until they decided Ssebunya posed no threat. About two weeks later, they let the boy join them as they traveled around the jungle. They taught Ssebunya how to find food and climb trees.
When Ssebunya was discovered living with the monkeys, it was difficult to tell he was human. Not only did he act like a monkey, but he had long hair that covered his face and body. Frightened locals first thought he was a monster. But once they rescued Ssebunya and shaved his body, the hair didn't come back.
The hair wasn't the only thing that was off about Ssebunya's appearance, as his adopted father Paul Wasswa recounts:
"He was wild... He had a lot of hair, which is apparently common in feral children. His knees had grown almost white, from walking on them. His nails had grown hugely, and curled around. He was, of course, not house-trained or anything... We still don't know, we can never know, how much time he really spent with the monkeys, but it certainly changed him."
The family of monkeys who took Ssebunya in didn't want to give him up to his human rescuers, and tried to scare them off by making lots of noise and throwing sticks and other objects at them.
Ssebunya fought, too, but he was eventually separated from the primates.