Throughout history, children have been cut off from society, abandoned by their caregivers, or thrown into the wild. According to certain reports, some of these outcasts were even raised by animals, though said wild tales often test the limits of plausibility. In 1881, for example, explorers allegedly captured Krao the Missing Link (featured above) and her parents from the jungles of what is now Thailand and Laos. She was said to be part of a primitive tribe that lived high in the jungle canopy.
Some of the cases outlined below tip into the realm of legend. Others are all-too-real. Together, they offer a glimpse into the untamed nature that lives within us all.
10. Danielle "Dani" Lierow
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Times published a special report on one of the most horrifying cases of child abuse/neglect ever recorded. In July 2005, a police officer responded to a call from a resident of Plant City, Florida, who, after having seen the face of a little girl in the window of a run-down rental home nearby, was concerned about possible child abuse. When the authorities arrived at the home, they found a woman living in a nest of cockroaches, filth, and spiderwebs, with food and feces smeared on the walls. In this midst of this horrific scene was then-six-year-old Danielle, severely malnourished and wearing a soiled diaper.
Danielle was immediately taken from her mother’s custody, and sent to the hospital for care and observation. According to the Tampa Bay Times, doctors had no way of knowing the extent of what Danielle had endured. But based on what they had seen, they surmised that she “had never been cared for beyond basic sustenance. Hard as it was to imagine, they doubted she had ever been taken out in the sun, sung to sleep, even hugged or held.” This extreme abuse and neglect had caused Danielle to retreat into herself, her behavior and skills similar to that of an infant. Doctors declared that her abuse would leave her permanently and severely disabled.
Luckily, Danielle’s story has a happy ending. In 2007, she was adopted by a couple, Bernie and Diane Lierow. They called her “Dani,” brought her into a loving home, and attempted to rehabilitate this horrifically abused little girl. In 2014, Oprah Winfrey, who had broadcast Dani and the Lierow’s story in 2009, checked in with the family. Fifteen-year-old Dani was now a high school student, living with her family on a farm in Tennessee. Though still severely disabled and almost completely non-verbal, Dani had made incredible strides since the day of her rescue, all those years ago. You can read more about Dani in the Lierow’s memoir, Dani's Story: A Journey From Neglect to Love.
9. Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus were born into the ruling family of Alba Longa, an ancient city in Latium. Shortly after giving birth, their mother, Rhea Silvia, was ordered to abandon the pair in the Tiber River by her cruel and power-hungry uncle, Amulius.
But the mighty stream kept Romulus and Remus afloat and they were soon rescued by a she-wolf. The creature let the brothers suckle her milk until a shepherd finally found the boys and raised them into adulthood.
Upon discovering their prestigious lineage, Romulus and Remus tracked down Amulius and murdered him. They then set out to establish a city of their own. Unfortunately, they disagreed as to where they should found it. The argument spilled over into bloody confrontation and the rest is ancient history. Romulus killed his brother, then went on to found the city–which he named Rome, in honor of himself.
8. Peter the Wild Boy
In 1725, a group of hunters found a feral child wandering the forest near the German town of Hamelin. He crawled on all fours, ate forest plants, and could barely speak. Those who discovered the feral child, found him to be completely uncivilized.
By some trick of fate, the boy was transferred to Britain where he was briefly adopted by King George I. All attempts to educate him proved fruitless, though the child grew into adulthood and lived out his life until age 70. It’s now believed that he most likely suffered Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a rare chromosome disorder that affects normal development.
7. Marie-Angelique Memmie la Blanc
Deep in the French woodlands in the mid-1700s there was a young girl who lived in total isolation. One day, Marie-Angelique, as she came to be known, appeared with a club in her hand, in search of water near the town of Songy in Champagne. Fearful villagers sent a guard dog after her, but Marie-Angelique killed the canine with one fatal blow.
She retreated to a tree, and only came down for food and water that the villagers left for her. She spoke no French, and only attempted to communicate by shrieking. Eventually she was placed under the care of a shepherd and learned to speak French–indicating that she must have spoken some other language before turning feral.
After many years, Marie-Angelique began to remember what led to her wild existence. She claimed that she once lived in a warmer land, was captured, painted black to pass as a slave, and placed on a boat. At some point, she escaped into the forests of France where she survived on raw plants and animals.
6. Victor of Aveyron
In the early 1800s, a young French boy was spotted living in the woods. The wild child was clearly fearful of people. Eventually, however, he emerged on his own. Lacking language, preferring uncooked food, and covered in scars, it was obvious that he had been wild for most of his life.
A physician named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard took in the boy, naming him Victor. Itard studied Victor for five years. Although the only words Victor ever learned were lait (“milk”) and Dieu (“God”), he did make great progress in learning empathy–one of the traits that Itard believed separated humans from other animals.
5. Kaspar Hauser
In May of 1828 in Nuremberg, Germany a disheveled teenager appeared from the woods with a letter addressed to Captain von Wessenig. The author of the letter claimed the boy had mysteriously appeared to him as an infant in the year 1812–and that he now wanted to become a soldier. The anonymous author invited von Wessening to take him in or hang him.
Even though the mystery boy’s vocabulary was limited, he said his name was Kaspar Hauser. The captain took Kaspar to the police, where he was placed under the care of the state, refusing to eat anything but bread and water. By 1832, Kaspar found a job in a small law office and was under the care of a schoolmaster named Johann Georg Meyer.
One day, Kaspar and Johann had a bitter argument. Five days later, Kaspar came home with a serious stab wound to the chest, to which he succumbed and died.
His tombstone read: “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”
4. Cambodian Jungle Girl
Her identity was a mystery when she was captured in the dense jungle of northeastern Cambodia in 2007. She was naked, caked with dirt, and covered with scars. The woman preferred to crawl rather than walk, and she spoke only three words: “father,” “mother,” and “stomach ache.”
A nearby villager, Sar Yo, came forward to claim the woman was his daughter, Rochom P’ngieng, who had vanished 18 years earlier when she was eight years old. But reporters who visited the woman doubted that she had lived for 18 years in the jungle. Sar Yo did not agree to a DNA test. There were also some signs that the woman may have escaped from some kind of captivity.
Sar Yo died in 2013, and in 2016 a Vietnamese man came forward to say the woman was his daughter who had disappeared in 2006—a year before she was discovered—after suffering a mental breakdown. His claim was accepted and the woman, whose real name was Tak, returned with him to Vietnam. But she reportedly never learned to speak.
The story of Genie is one of the saddest modern tales of feral children. Born in California in 1957, Genie’s father soon turned his back on the girl for her mental disabilities, and decided to seclude her from the outside world.
Genie was locked inside a dark room, where she was usually bound to a crib or strapped to the toilet. No one was allowed to interact with her and she received very little food. By the time Genie turned 13, Los Angeles authorities uncovered the despicable abuse. Genie knew nothing of language and walked with a strange gait–indicating her motor skills were severely impaired. She was transferred from state doctor to state doctor in an attempt to study her condition, and hopefully socialize her.
The repeated transfers caused so much stress, that she soon lost all ability to speak. When she turned 18, her mother cut off all scientists from contacting the family. Updates on Genie’s life are sporadic, but in 2008 ABC News reported that Genie was in the care of the state at a psychiatric hospital, completely speechless.
2. Russian Bird Boy
In 2008, Russian social services rescued a boy who was being raised as a pet bird by his own mother. His bedroom? A room filled with cages and birds, with bird food and excrement strewn across the floor. His only method of communication? Chirping like the feathered friends that surrounded him.
According to reports, when the boy believed his chirps were being ignored, he flailed his arms like wings. He has since come into the custody of the state. Startlingly enough, this is not the first instance of Russian children raised to be animals–in 2006, Arthur Zverev was discovered barking like a dog and running around on all fours.
1. Marina Chapman
Born in Colombia, Marina Chapman asserts that her early childhood was spent completely alone in the jungle–save for the group of Capuchin monkeys who watched over her. Her earliest memory is that at age four, when she was taken away from her village and released into the wild.
She claims to have spent several years living with a troop of primates until a group of hunters came across her. The hunters promptly sold her to a brothel in the city of Cúcuta, where she eventually became a slave to the mafia.
Marina eventually broke free from her captors and made it to Bradford, England, where she married a scientist and gave birth to two children. She tells her wild story in the autobiography The Girl with No Name.