The topic of feral children has fascinated me for several years. Now, to find out that two children were found in the Ukraine, living among wild dogs; has further provided researchers with questions regarding language development and human psychology.
Victor: The First Feral Child Documented
Victor was an 11 year old boy found in January 1800 near Saint Sernin sur Rance, in southern France. Victor survived 11 years by living in the forest; he crawled around on all fours and snuck food from people’s gardens.
It is thought, that since he had no human contact for the first 11 years of his life that he probably gained the social skills that he had from animals. He did not wear any cloths and his body had several old and new scars from living in the wild.
When found, Victor could not speak human language. Researchers at the time tried to re-socialize Victor to more appropriate social norms of the time and tried to teach him language. They made barely minimal progress.
Victor lived to age 40, which was probably the average life span of that time. He was never able to be socialized to live the type of life that most of us would think of as normal and healthy. Since Victor’s case, psychologists and sociologists have been very interested in language development in cases of social neglect.
Feral Children in Modern Society
In 1991 an 8 year old girl was found in Novaya Blagoveschenka, Ukraine. Her name was Oxanna Malaya. At the time she was discovered living in the backyard of her family home in a dog kennel.
She had befriended the dogs in the yard and basically took on their behaviors and actions. She walked on all fours, growled and barked. She would defend the territory in an aggressive display similar to that of an angry dog. She had minimal human language abilities, but would communicate like her canine companions through animal-type actions.
Also, in Mirny, Ukraine in 1999, a young boy was discovered, named Edik. Edik was 4 years old at the time he was discovered. Edik was living in a run-down apartment on his own, in a very poverty stricken area of the Ukraine.
He had wild dogs co-habitating in the apartment with him, some say at any given time he had at least three dogs with him.
Researchers believe that it was the symbiotic relationship between the human and animals that strengthened the bond, and created the “pack” mentality between the boy and the dogs. The dogs found that the boy would provide some source of food, regardless of how infrequent; which meant that the dogs did not have to hunt. In exchange, the dogs provided the boy with affection and companionship.
What Have Oxanna and Edik Accomplished Today?
Today, Oxanna and Edik are not classified as true feral children because of their previous human socialization and the fact that they did have some basic language skills early on.
But to this day, their language skills still lag behind their chronological development to this day. Researchers believe that Oxanna’s language skills will always lag behind other people her age because she was discovered past the age where the brain can regain those skills to full functional capacity.
Edik on the other hand has made good progress. His language skills as still behind other children his own age. But researches believe that he will be able to regain enough language that he will function well in society. They believe it is solely based on the fact that he was discovered young enough that the brain can still learn the basic foundation needed for language development.
Today, Oxanna and Edik live in care homes where they interact with other people and staff. Both Oxanna and Edik have dogs at the homes where they live so they can still enjoy them as pets. They are no longer dependent on these animals for survival so their relationship with the animals has changed a lot.
Both Oxanna and Edik now walk on 2 legs, like the rest of us and wear clothing in a socially appropriate way. It took months and years for both of them to learn these basic social norms. An update from 2010 indicates that Oxana is now trying to locate her birth mother and father to learn more about herself.