There’s no such thing as a happy story about feral kids. Though films like The Jungle Book make life among the animals looks like carefree fun, the most famous feral humans have been left tragically scarred by their ordeal. Throughout modern history, several kids have for whatever reason been left to fend for themselves in the harsh world around us.
In each of these cases, the children learned to survive by relying on animals. They adopted the characteristics, diet, and behavior of whatever wild animal they spend the most time with. Even today, children find themselves lost among the animals for years at a time, only to be rescued almost against their will. These experiences have an indelible impact on the survivors who come out the other side. Even though they start with an animal taking pity on a poor, lost child, few of these stories have fairy tale endings.
Here is a group of children who managed to survive insurmountable odds in spite of the fact that they had no training and virtually no chance of surviving on their own. Though the real history of feral children is darker than the movies would have you believe, these stories of survival are no less astonishing.
In 1959, Marina Chapman was taken from her rural Colombian home and driven into the jungle. There, she was abandoned for apparently no reason. After hours of wandering and weeping, she managed to stumble upon a group of what are thought to be capuchin monkeys. Chapman followed the clan for days, learning to scavenge like they did, and surviving thanks to their help. At one point, one of the elder members of the family even helped save Chapman’s life when she got a foodborne illness.
Over time, Chapman began to miss human contact. Unfortunately, the first people she chose to reveal herself to sold her to a brothel. It was years before she was able to escape into the city streets by working as a domestic servant in people’s homes. Fortunately, these days Chapman is at the head of an extensive family of her own, having put the horrors of her life behind her.
To this day, Chapman says that she owes her life to the little family of monkeys that helped keep her alive.
In 1986, three-year-old Ukrainian Oxana Malaya was left outside during a snowstorm by a pair of alcoholic parents. Young Oxana managed to walk into a nearby hovel where she was taken in by a pack of dogs. For some reason, her parents never actually went to retrieve their daughter, and the young girl was raised by the domestic canines for the next five years, until a neighbor reported the situation to authorities.
These days, the 33-year-old works with cows on a farm at the mental facility where she resides. Though she’s become somewhat comfortable with people, telling jokes and speaking regularly, she reportedly still favors the company of creatures to people.
In 2017, authorities in India found a girl who couldn't speak or behave like humans living among a troop of monkeys. The girl was spotted by an inspector at the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, and has since been dubbed the Mowgli girl after the main character from the Jungle Book. When he approached the girl, she was unable to understand or speak to him, and "seemed comfortable with the apes," according to an Indian newspaper.
The girl, who appeared to be about eight years old when she was discovered, is allegedly frightened by the sight of other people and even walks like a monkey. Authorities are unsure who she is, where she came from, and how long she's been living among the animals.
In the mid-1980s, as Uganda was in the throes of a violent civil war, young John Ssebunya was a mere toddler of two. One night, in a fit of rage, John’s father killed his mother, prompting the terrified child to flee into the jungle. There he stayed for the next year, surviving only thanks to the benevolence of a group of monkeys.
A few days into his feral life, Ssebunya was approached by a small family of monkeys who offered him roots, nuts, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Ssebunya also learned his behavior from the monkeys (for example, as a boy, he’d rarely meet people’s eyes). Fortunately, though, John survived and was raised by a new family. And though he’s happy where he is, John explains that he feels fortunate to have been found by the group of monkeys who would become his short-lived family.
“I am grateful, yes, I am,” he says. “Because... not because of love from them, from the monkeys. But because what they did made it possible for me to be loved by other people, by humans.”