Can Children Actually Be Created By Animals Like In “The Jungle Book”?

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The new Jungle Book movie is now in cinemas, and once again it features the century-old tale of Mowgli, an orphaned boy raised by the inhabitants of the jungle. Apart from the astoundingly awesome fact that Bill Murray is voicing Baloo, the soft-hearted bear, the movies narrative will never fail to win viewers over thanks to its fantastical take on a human living among a menagerie of exotic animals in the wild.

Although such a complex collection of animals attains for a piece of visually resplendent fiction, you may be wondering if theres any truth behind a boy being raised by wolves. There are various mythological or literary whisperings about babies being reared in this way, including Tarzan appeared after by great apes and Romulus and Remus, the supposed founders of Rome, who were also tends to by wolves.

So is there any evidence or science at all behind the narratives of the so-called feral children, or is it all merely the stuff of legends? Lets take a look.

Once Upon A Time In Ukraine

Oxana Malayas story. Animal Planet via YouTube

Oxana Malaya, as the story runs, was abandoned by her parents in the village of Novaya Blagoveschenka as a 3-year-old child. She was left outside in the cold, so she moved to where there was warmth and food, which in this case was a hovel sheltering dogs eating raw meat. She supposedly joined them and spent five years gradually losing human linguistic and behavioral traits and adopting far more canine ones.

When she was found in 1991, the eight-year-old Oxana was more dog than human, and nowadays she is assigned to a foster home for the mentally-disabled, where she helps out on the farm. Multiple documentaries have been made about her, and although she used to often bark, ran around on all fours, slept on the floor, and eat like a dog, she is now able to suppress such behaviors.

The problem is that theres no documented proof of any kind that she lived with puppies in this way. Although her behaviours seem real, this could all be the result of her being mentally impaired, and there would be no way to tell the difference.

Raised By Wolves

A captive Indian wolf( Canis lupus pallipes ). Pavan Kunder/ Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0

Of the other feral children stories drifting around, one of the most intriguing is that of a boy named Ramuwho, just like Mowgli, was raised by Indian wolves or so it seems.

In 1976, he was said to have been found by wolf cubs, behaving as they did; he even had claw-like fingernails. The missionaries that adopted him noted that he learned how to bathe and dress, but never to speak. At night, hed raid the nearby chicken coops. He died in 1985, and his obituary made the front page of the Times of India.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that the narrative began to unravel with weird parallels to the Rudyard Kipling collection of stories the Jungle Book first written in 1894. People at the missionarys retreat, including an elderly lawyer, spoke about another wolf son called Bhaloo who was procured running alongside aggressive wolf cubs, who was adopted by another person in a nearby village.

Ultimately, the tales of Bhaloo and Ramu could not be confirmed. It seems that there are plenty of legends of feral children out there for anyone to peruse, but few of them have documented evidence of their occurrence.

Adoption In The Wild

Chimpanzees are like us in many ways so would they adopt a newborn that isnt theirs? Gudkov Andrey/ Shutterstock

In any case, the crux of the matter here is not that children can be abandoned and survive in the wild because this does happen but whether animals of completely different species would want to share their resources and even protect someone who isnt one of their own in any way.

Chimpanzees, with their remarkable genetic, social, intellectual and behavioral traits, are seen as the closest living evolutionary cousins to humen, but this doesnt mean theyd adopt a human child. They surely demonstrate empathy and kindness, but theyre also documented as engaging in both murder and warfare, either to displace another male rising up the social hierarchy or to defend their territory, respectively.

Theyre also known to engage in infanticide, as are types of monkeys, bears, penguins, and a whole host of animals. Nevertheless, chimpanzees have been known to adopt other orphaned chimps, both in captivity and in the wild.

Speaking less horrifically, even though they may not kill you, if you dont serve a use to some animals like cats, who find humans as inessential landlords they may simply dispose you altogether, leaving you to fend for yourself. These things considered, it seems pretty unlikely that animals would be willing to adopt an alien-looking, resource-swilling human child.

However, there are plenty of cases of animals actually adopting or at least befriending members of other species. Captive dogs have nursed baby squirrels and owls, and one particular captive gorilla has a penchant for adopting kittens, for example. Even the wild has its share of adoptions, including a pod of sperm whales that took care of a deformed bottlenose dolphin.

Researchers have noted that one of the main forms of animal adoption is when a animal adopts a are part of its own species, something known as instinctive adoption. Appearing after your own is a way to ensure DNA that is at least somewhat similar to yours is passed on to the next generation.

Mutual benefit also helps; in the case of the deformed bottlenose dolphin, it was likely adopted because it built different groups stronger overall. As long as you arent taking up too many resources, youd likely be fine, it seems. In many cases, adoption of an individual occurs when a new mom takes on a young orphan, perhaps due to their temporarily higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone known to promote social bonding.

Youre Either With Us Or Against Us

In the wild, mutual benefit may be the answer to this tantalizing question. Peter Batarseh/ Shutterstock

With respect to reciprocal benefit, one narrative of feral children stands out: Between the ages of 4 and 6, Ivan Mishukov befriended some wild puppies on the street of Moscow. He eventually gained their trust completely and became their pack leader; they protected him like he was one of their own, and they all shared food together.

Although its still difficult to verify the truth of this story, theres less skepticism floating all over the Internet than usual when it comes to narratives like these. So perhaps a young human could be adopted by a wild animal, as long as they pulled their weight in their new society we just havent insured verifiable, convincing, documented evidence of it just yet.

In Mowglis case, it could just possibly be true: wolves have been observed adopting other puppies. Tiny humen, though, may be seen as little more than a tasty amuse-bouche.

Main image: The Jungle Book, Disney via YouTube

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