This is not Tarzan. These stories are not like The Jungle Book. These are harrowing tales of isolation, abuse and fights for survival. Children so neglected they've found more comfort in communicating with animals than their own kin.
Anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota has said about the survivors,
“These aren't Jungle Book stories, they're often harrowing cases of neglect and abuse. And it's all too likely because of a tragic combination of addiction, domestic violence and poverty. These are kids who fell through the cracks, who were forgotten, or ignored, or hidden.”
The below works show a number of scenarios constructed by artist Julia Fullerton-Batten, who has documented cases of feral children and tried to capture their feeling of isolation within an image.
In an interview with the BBC, Fullerton-Batten has explained the shocking and often distressing back stories of each child.
1. Shamdeo, India, 1972
“He was playing with wolf cubs. His skin was very dark, and he had sharpened teeth, long hooked fingernails, matted hair and calluses on his palms, elbows and knees. He was fond of chicken-hunting, would eat earth and had a craving for blood. He bonded with dogs.”
Found in a forest in India, Shameo was estimated to be around four years old. He never spoke but did eventually learn some sign language. He passed away in 1985.
2. Oxana Malaya, Ukraine, 1991
“Oxana was found living with dogs in a kennel in 1991. She was eight years old and had lived with the dogs for six years. Her parents were alcoholics and one night, they had left her outside. Looking for warmth, the three-year-old crawled into the farm kennel and curled up with the mongrel dogs, an act that probably saved her life. She ran on all fours, panted with her tongue out, bared her teeth and barked. Because of her lack of human interaction, she only knew the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”
Oxana currently resides in a clinic in Odessa and works with the hospital's farm animals.
3. Marina Chapman, Colombia, 1959
“Marina was kidnapped in 1954 at five years of age from a remote South American village and left by her kidnappers in the jungle. She lived with a family of capuchin monkeys for five years before she was discovered by hunters. She ate berries, roots and bananas dropped by the monkeys; slept in holes in trees and walked on all fours, like the monkeys. It was not as though the monkeys were giving her food – she had to learn to survive, she had the ability and common sense – she copied their behaviour and they became used to her, pulling lice out of her hair and treating her like a monkey. Because it was such an unusual story, a lot of people didn’t believe her – they X-rayed her body and looked at her bones to see if she was really malnourished, and concluded that it could have happened.”
Chapman now lives in Yorkshire, England with a husband and two daughters. A book entitled The Girl With No Name was written about her experience and inspired Fullerton-Batten's project.
4. John Ssebunya, Uganda, 1991
"John ran away from home in 1988 when he was three years old after seeing his father murder his mother. He fled into the jungle where he lived with monkeys. He was captured in 1991, now about six years old, and placed in an orphanage… He had calluses on his knees from walking like a monkey.”
He has since learned to speak and is apparently a member of the Pearl of Africa children’s choir.
5. Madina, Russia, 2013
“Madina lived with dogs from birth until she was three years old, sharing their food, playing with them, and sleeping with them when it was cold in winter. When social workers found her in 2013, she was naked, walking on all fours and growling like a dog. Madina’s father had left soon after her birth. Her mother, 23 years old, took to alcohol. She was frequently too drunk to look after for her child and… would sit at the table to eat while her daughter gnawed bones on the floor with the dogs.”
Despite her ordeal, when Madina was taken into care she was found to be emotionally and mentally healthy.
6. Sujit Kumar, Fiji, 1978
“Sujit was eight years old when he was found in the middle of a road clucking and flapping his arms and behaving like a chicken. He pecked at his food, crouched on a chair as if roosting, and would make rapid clicking noises with his tongue. His parents locked him in a chicken coop. His mother committed suicide and his father was murdered. His grandfather took responsibility for him but still kept him confined in the chicken coop.”
Kumar now lives with The Happy Home Trust.
7. Ivan Mishukov, Russia, 1998
Russian Mishukov despised family life so much he ran away at the age of four, feeding scraps to dogs and, becoming pack leader, slept amongst them during cold, hard winters.
“The relationship worked perfectly, far better than anything Ivan had known among his fellow humans. He begged for food, and shared it with his pack. In return, he slept with them in the long winter nights of deep darkness, when the temperatures plummeted. Ivan ran away so it was a choice he made, not to be at home – but his home must have been so bad that he would rather be on the streets with a pack of dogs.”