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Monday 22 May 2017

The Saga of the Monkey Girl

     Last month the news came out that the tale of an Indian girl living with monkeys had turned out to be a damp squib, so to speak. Really, there is only one authenticated case of a human child raised by animals: Bello, discovered in 1996 living with a group of chimpanzees in the Falgore Forest of Nigeria. Alas! He was no Tarzan. He appears to have been abandoned by his parents because he was both physically and mentally disabled. Another possible case was Assicia, later renamed Sylvana, who was discovered wandering alone in the jungle of Liberia in the 1930s. Although not found in the company of apes, she walked around on all fours, on knees and fingertips, with ankles bent, and scratched herself like a monkey. Baby Hospital, found by a missionary in Sierra Leone, may be another case, but the information is too sketchy to form a conclusion. As for the enigma of the wolf children of Midnapore, I have discussed them elsewhere. Suffice it is to say that the story appears to check out, even though it is impossible.
     What is certain is that certain feral children have lived in association with animals - which is not to say they were reared by them. Saturday Mifune had definitely been watched for over a year with a band of monkeys in South Africa before being rescued in 1987. Since he never learned to talk, it seems likely he was originally autistic or mentally retarded. One about which there is no dispute is John Ssebunya of Uganda, who ran away from home when his father killed his mother, and lived for some time with vervet monkeys before he was rescued in 1989. Unlike the others, he is able to talk, and eventually joined the Pearl of Africa Children's Choir - which means that his rise was greater than even the fictional Tarzan's. The latter rose from an ape tribe to the House of Lords. John went from a monkey tribe to the house of the Lord.
     So when I read about Marina Chapman, who claimed to have lived for five years with capuchin monkeys, I was inspired to read her autobiography, The Girl With No Name.