Feral children grow up in extreme isolation, lacking basic communication skills and the ability to care for themselves. The following five stories are of feral children whose circumstances have been corroborated. While each child’s situation is unique, you will find each story fascinating and often tragic.
1. Cambodian Jungle Girl
Her name is purported to be Rochom P’ngieng, a Vietnamese woman discovered on January 13, 2007. The circumstances around her initial disappearance are unclear. She spent 19 years in the jungles near Ratanakiri Province.
Controversy surrounds her, as some NGOs claim she was held captive by bandits or escaped from an asylum. She had deep scars around her wrists and was minimally verbal, though she could use a spoon with ease. A Cambodian man claimed she was his daughter and was born in 1985. Unable to deal with the pressures of civilized life and constant tourists’ visits, she periodically escaped back into the jungle in 2010.
After her purported father’s death, a Vietnamese man emerged in 2016 with documents that indicated the Cambodian jungle girl was, in fact, his daughter. The girl had never learned to speak and supposedly suffered a mental breakdown in 2006. They returned to Vietnam, leaving more questions than answers about the girl’s origins.
2. Genie Wiley (Pseudonym)
Perhaps the most tragic story on this list is that of Genie. From birth, her father kept her locked in a dark room, forbidding other family members from speaking to her. She was extremely malnourished. In 1970, child welfare officials discovered Genie, who was by then completely nonverbal at over 13 years-old.
A group of psychologists gained funding to study Genie, who eventually learned to speak in two- to three-word long sentences. These scientists fought over her, as did Genie’s mother. After several lawsuits, Genie was placed in her mother’s custody and all academic funding was cut. Still, her story led to an academic study and a documentary.
Genie later went from foster home to foster home, often abused by those who did not understand her needs. She currently resides in a group home at an undisclosed location in the western US.
3. Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja
Born in 1946 in Anora, Spain, Marcos was sold into slavery by his family to a goatherder at just seven-years-old. When the goatherder died, Marcos survived with wolves in the Sierra Morena Mountains until the age of 19. Upon returning to civilization in 1965, he had difficulties adjusting. However, he maintained a strong vocabulary, reasoning skills, and grasp of the language.
He was eventually taken to a convent where nuns and a priest helped him acclimate to the civilized world. They taught him to wear clothes, walk upright, use silverware, and keep down a job. He entered military service and eventually became a pastor. However, he was often swindled out of money due to his trusting nature and limited understanding of people.
Marcos is still alive today and gives speeches about his experience all over the world. He has expressed disappointment in the trustworthiness and compassion of humanity and wants to return to the solitude of the wilderness. Like Genie, he was the subject of an academic study and a movie.
Among the stranger feral child cases is that of Ramachandra. He lived a mostly amphibian lifestyle, alone for 15 years in the Kuwano River in Uttar Pradesh. His story was first reported around 1973 when he was 12. He was only rescued six years later. He was known for his awkward gait, reclusive nature, and preferences for raw food such as fish and insects.
By 1979, Ramachandra was living in a village near where he was found. He continued to wander in the wilderness and fish by hand. Unfortunately, he met a tragic end in 1982, after approaching a woman who became frightened and doused him with boiling water. His story is documented in the Mike Dash book Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown.
5. Victor of Aveyron
Young Victor is one of the oldest documented cases of a runaway-turned-feral-child. Born around 1788 to abusive, alcoholic parents, he escaped into the French wilderness before the age of 10. After being discovered, he was studied by doctor and surrogate father Jean-Marc Itard. He noted his penchant for raw food, nudity, walking on all fours, and almost complete lack of verbal skills. Itard estimated he had spent seven years in the wilderness on his own.
Attempts to school the boy largely failed, though he seemed to live a fairly happy life while under Itard’s care. He later moved to the home of Madame Guerin in Paris, where he became an alcoholic and died of pneumonia in 1828. The documentary Genie: The Secret of a Wild Child compares Victor to its titular character.