The first years of a child's life are crucial for their social and cultural development, but when this vital influence in their life is not provided for by a human, but by that of an animal, the results can be rather disturbing.
From a young age, these children have experienced animals as their primary form of contact, resulting in the adoption of animalistic behaviour and a severe lack of development in social and language skills. They are often referred to as 'Feral Children'.
However, although they are created from a lack of interaction with human beings, and experiencing that of only animals, it is often the neglect and irresponsibility of the caregivers that produce such outcomes. So, here are 5 shocking cases of feral children who were raised by animals.
5 The Russian Bird Boy - Vanya Yudin
Rescued by care workers in 2008, seven-year-old Vanya Yudin was living in a small two-bedroom apartment with his thirty-one-year-old mother, along with her many pet birds in Kirovsky, Volgograd, Russia.
Upon discovering Vanya, it was apparent the boy was severely neglected as he did not understand any human language. Social workers commented that he exhibited bird-like behaviour, chirping instead of speaking, and flapping his arms and hands as if he had wings, hence why he was nicknamed 'The Russian Bird Boy'.
Although he was well fed and showed no signs of being physically harmed by his mother, she simply never spoke to him or acknowledged him as her own human son, but instead, treating him as one of her pet birds for several years, deeply affecting him psychologically.
Growing up with his lack of human interaction, Vanya Yudin believed he was one of the birds. He developed his personality and self-concept from the bird's habits, by copying everything he saw, heard and experienced.
The boy's mother later signed an abdication form to release the child into care. He was temporarily transferred to an asylum, but soon after sent to a centre of psychological care, according to reports.
4 The Wolf Girl of Devil's River
Perhaps one of the least documented cases of feral children, due to the lack of evidence and how far it dates back. However, many cases of feral children have been raised by wolves, so it's possible it could be entirely credible.
The story goes back to 1845, when it was reported a strange girl was seen running in the company of wolves, on all fours, attacking a herd of goats near San Felipe, Mexico.
A year later, further support was added to this story when the Wolf Girl had been sighted again, devouring a freshly killed goat. Disturbed local villagers set out a search for her days later, eventually managing to capture the girl and bring her back to the village.
Supposedly, she continually howled throughout the night, attracting a pack of wolves who charged into the village in an apparent rescue attempt. The girl soon managed to break out of her enclosure and escape.
It was thought she was around seventeen-years-old when the girl was last spotted in 1852, allegedly suckling two wolf cubs on a sandbar in a river. After noticing she wasn't alone, she and the two cubs disappeared back into the woods, never to be seen again.
It is not known how she came to live her life in the wild, or how she came to be accepted and take comfort in the company of wolves. But, she more than likely was in the care of the wolves from a very young age due to her distressed behaviour when she was captured and her evident avoidance of humans. We may never find out the identity of this girl, nor how she came to be, The Wolf Girl of Devil's River.
3 The Indian Wolf Boy - Dina Sanichar
Deep in the jungles of Bulandshahr, India, in 1867, hunters were startled to witness a young boy, running on all fours, follow a wolf into her den. In a rescue attempt, the hunters smoked the pair out, shot the wolf, and brought the boy back to civilisation.
They took him to live at the Sekandra mission orphanage in Agra. He was given the name Dina Sanichar, and it was thought he was around six-years-old. He initially displayed behaviours of a wild animal, eating food from the ground and tearing off any clothes the missionaries attempted to put on him.
They had limited success rehabilitating Dina Sanichar as he never did learn to speak. They did, however, manage to wean him off raw meats onto cooked, and eventually persuade him to wear his clothes. He apparently grew very fond of tobacco over the years too.
Sadly, Dina Sanichar died in 1895, just shy of his thirty-fifth birthday.
Again, this is yet another case of a child being raised in the wild by wolves. It has always fascinated psychologists as to why wolves specifically? Why would an apex predator care for a helpless human child rather than kill it for food?
It would seem an intensive study was conducted in Belgium in the early 20th century, where human infants were placed before many species of wild animals, from jaguars to bears, moose and even crocodiles, with the majority resulting in the child either being ignored or attacked and eaten. Only the wolves came remotely close to a 50% adoption rate.
Researchers suggest this may be because wolves are the direct ancestors of dogs and therefore have a predisposition towards humans. Others argue that wolves are intelligent enough to recognise the potential usefulness of an adopted pack member, while some simply believe wolves are caring and open-hearted. What do you think?
2 Nigerian Chimp Boy - Bello
An infant boy was found by hunters in 1996, among a family of chimpanzees in the Falgore forest, 150 km south of Kano, in northern Nigeria. Believed to have been at the age of about two, the boy was taken to the Tudun Maliki Torrey home (A specialist home for children) in Kano, where he was given his name, Bello, by the homes nursing staff.
It is thought he was the son of the nomadic ethnic Fulani pastoralist people, who travel great distances across the West African Sahel region. But because Bello was both mentally and physically disabled, described as having a misshapen forehead, sloping right shoulder and protruding chest, it is thought he was abandoned by his parents, as it is common among the Fulani people to desert their children with disabilities, and in most cases, the children die. Except in Bello's case of course, as he was fortunate enough to be adopted into a chimpanzee family.
When Bello first arrived at the home, it was reported he was incredibly restless and behaved much like his adopted chimp family. He walked like a monkey, moving his feet while dragging his hands behind on the ground and making grunting and squeaking sounds imitating that of a chimpanzee. He would also leap around, especially at night smashing and throwing things, disturbing the other children at the home.
A welfare officer stated, "We do not know exactly how long he would have been with the chimps. Based on the traits he exhibits, we estimate that he would have been adopted when he was no more than six months old and nursed by a nursing chimp."
The staff at the home grew very fond of the boy, and six years on, Bello was much calmer. He would still make chimp-like noises and jump around in a chimpanzee-like fashion but was much more settled.
Unfortunately, we were unable to further study Bello's progress as he passed away in 2005.
1 Mowgli Girl - Natasha Mikhailova
Similarly to the first case on this list, Natasha Mikhailova's situation was a direct result of neglect from her caregivers.
She was discovered in 2009, when police officers received a tip-off from concerned neighbours. Natasha was found living in filthy conditions in a small apartment with her father, Viktor Lozhkin, her grandparents and an abundance of cats and dogs in the Siberian city of Chita, Russia.
Five-year-old Natasha Mikhailova was found wearing torn and soiled clothes, disregarded by her family and kept in a locked room with dogs and cats who essentially raised her. She walked on all fours and greeted the officers by barking.
Treated as one of the animals, she was underdeveloped and malnourished, although, a police spokesman quoted; 'she appeared to be relatively healthy considering her ordeal.' Natasha was promptly removed from her family, and placed in the care of an orphanage.
The severity of her neglect became apparent under close observation from a social rehabilitation centre. She communicated with only barks and jumped up on people as would a dog. Natasha avoided the company of other children and became nervous when she heard loud or unexpected noises. Yet, specialists were adamant she was not mentally disabled, but instead, her behaviour was a product of the neglect she suffered.
She also imitated the way a cat or dog ate, since she was never taught to eat properly. When Natasha was first taken in, Nina Yemelchugova, chief of the rehabilitation centre said; 'She eats well, she's got a good appetite, but she can't behave at the table, she throws away the spoon and laps up food from the plate.'
Natasha Mikhailova is now referred to as the Mowgli Girl, as 'Mowgli syndrome' is a term often given to children who are deemed 'feral'. It originates from the character in Rudyard Kipling's fictional story, The Jungle Book. However, it is not recognised as a psychological or physiological disorder.
It is hoped Natasha is making a full recovery and will live a normal life in society.
Neglected by their parents, either physically or socially, these children sought love and solace from animals. And although it is fascinating to study such cases, it is important to keep in mind that they are not just experiments... they are real people who have not had the best start in life, and now must learn how to adjust into society and their new lives.