Although the following photographs taken by Julia Fullerton-Batten have a somewhat dreamy, fantastical quality to them, the dark stories they portray actually took place. According to Julia, the feral children she researched were met with "two different scenarios – one where the child ended up in the forest, and another where the child was actually at home, so neglected and abused that they found more comfort from animals than humans.” Julia decided to take staged photos that recreated actual cases of children living as wild animals, abandoned or unseen by the human world.
1. Marina Chapman, Colombia, 1959
The true story of Marina Chapman, as documented in her autobiography "The Girl With No Name", was Julia's inspiration for the entire project.
“Marina was kidnapped in 1954 at five years of age from a remote South American village and left by her kidnappers in the jungle... She lived with a family of capuchin monkeys for five years before she was discovered by hunters. She ate berries, roots and bananas dropped by the monkeys; slept in holes in trees and walked on all fours, like the monkeys. It was not as though the monkeys were giving her food – she had to learn to survive, she had the ability and common sense – she copied their behavior and they became used to her, pulling lice out of her hair and treating her like a monkey... Because it was such an unusual story, a lot of people didn't believe her – they X-rayed her body and looked at her bones to see if she was really malnourished, and concluded that it could have happened.” - Julia Fullerton-Batten
Chapman now lives in Yorkshire, England with a husband and two daughters.
2. Shamdeo, India, 1972
Young Shamdeo was found in 1972, at an estimated 4 years old, living in a rural Indian forest.
“He was playing with wolf cubs. His skin was very dark, and he had sharpened teeth, long hooked fingernails, matted hair and calluses on his palms, elbows and knees. He was fond of chicken-hunting, would eat earth and had a craving for blood. He bonded with dogs.” -Julia Fullerton-Batten
As would be expected, a feral child's transition to the human world is never easy. "When they were discovered, it was such a shock," the photographer said about each case. "They had learned animal behavior, their fingers were claw-like and they couldn’t even hold a spoon. Suddenly all these humans were trying to get them to sit properly and talk.” Apparently, Shamdeo never learned to speak, but was able to learn and communicate through sign language.
3. Sujit Kumar, Fiji, 1978
“Sujit was 8 years old when he was found in the middle of a road, clucking and flapping his arms and behaving like a chicken... He pecked at his food, crouched on a chair as if roosting, and would make rapid clicking noises with his tongue. His parents locked him in a chicken coop. His mother committed suicide and his father was murdered. His grandfather took responsibility for him but still kept him confined in the chicken coop." -Julia Fullerton-Batten
Kumar is now an adult under the care of Elizabeth Clayton who, inspired by Kumar's harrowing story, set up a charity dedicated to housing children in need.
4. Oxana Malaya, Ukraine, 1991
"Oxana was found living with dogs in a kennel in 1991. She was eight years old and had lived with the dogs for six years. Her parents were alcoholics and one night, they had left her outside. Looking for warmth, the three-year-old crawled into the farm kennel and curled up with the mongrel dogs, an act that probably saved her life. She ran on all fours, panted with her tongue out, bared her teeth and barked. Because of her lack of human interaction, she only knew the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” -Julia Fullerton-Batten
Oxana now lives in a clinic in Odessa, Ukraine, where she works with the hospital’s farm animals.
5. John Ssebunya, Uganda, 1991
“John ran away from home in 1988 when he was 3-years-old, after seeing his father murder his mother... He fled into the jungle where he lived with monkeys. He was captured in 1991, now about six years old, and placed in an orphanage… He had calluses on his knees from walking like a monkey.”
Miraculously, John has learned to speak, and became a member of the Pearl of Africa children’s choir. He now lives is his own house and hopes to start a family one day.
7. Ivan Mishukov, Russia, 1998
Ivan ran away from home when he was just 4-years-old. He began hanging around a pack of wild dogs and fed them scraps he found on the street until, eventually, the dogs began to treat him as their pack leader. Ivan lived on the streets for two years until he was taken to a children’s home. Michael Newton, author of the book "Savage Girls And Wild Boys: A History Of Feral Children", wrote: “The relationship worked perfectly, far better than anything Ivan had known among his fellow humans. He begged for food, and shared it with his pack. In return, he slept with them in the long winter nights of deep darkness, when the temperatures plummeted.” Through cases like Ivan's, Fullerton-Batten came to believe that feral children can reveal what is hidden in the dark corners of a society, and that a seemingly civilized city can be just as brutally inhospitable as a forest, if not more.
“Ivan ran away, so it was a choice he made, not to be at home – but his home must have been so bad that he would rather be on the streets with a pack of dogs... I was trying not to be exploitative. Three of the cases inspired charities – I wanted to raise awareness about what is still going on.” -Julia Fullerton-Batten
8. Madina, Russia, 2013
“Madina lived with dogs from birth until she was three years old, sharing their food, playing with them, and sleeping with them when it was cold in winter. When social workers found her in 2013, she was naked, walking on all fours and growling like a dog. Madina’s father had left soon after her birth. Her mother, 23 years old, took to alcohol. She was frequently too drunk to look after her child and… would sit at the table to eat while her daughter gnawed bones on the floor with the dogs.” -Julia Fullerton-Batten
After Madina was rescued, she was found to be mentally and physically healthy, despite the trauma she had endured.
The Forgotten Ones
Mary-Ann Ochota, a British broadcaster and anthropologist who aided Julia in the project, writes on her website;
“These strange, feral children are often a source of shame and secrecy within a family or community... These aren't Jungle Book stories, they're often harrowing cases of neglect and abuse. And it's all too likely because of a tragic combination of addiction, domestic violence and poverty. These are kids who fell through the cracks, who were forgotten, or ignored, or hidden.”
While theses tragedies are upsetting to say the least, the charity of those more fortunate, when met with true resilience of these remarkable children, is nothing but a miracle.