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Do Animals Adopt Us?

Leela Ramaswamy / Deccan Herald / Bangalore, India

Perhaps you own a pet or know a neighbour or friend who does. As you know, it can be anything from a huge elephant to smaller creatures like fish in a tank... They are looked after with affection, but also expected to adapt themselves to our way of living. I know a friend who is often tempted to think her dog is human-well, almost. It makes one wonder whether animals ever adopt human beings and bring them up as their own!

Legend has it that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a wolf. They were twins born to Silvia, daughter of King Numitor. Their father was the war-god, Mars. Numitor's throne was usurped and Silvia imprisoned. The babies were set afloat in the River Tiber to die, but the basket got lodged in the roots of a tree. A she-wolf found them and cared for them, feeding them with her own milk. Eventually they were rescued by a herdsman and went on to establish the Roman Empire, which was named after them, on the shores of the Tiber.

Then there is Tarzan the Ape-man, a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, but who still continues to fascinate us. Tarzan was the hero of no less than 23 books. This child of the jungle was fostered by a gorilla named Kala. The ship carrying him and his parents was sunk. The infant survived and was brought up by Kala. Tarzan's different appearance and comparative weakness proved stumbling blocks to him for a long time, but eventually he overcame his handicaps through strenuous exercises and became strong and intelligent. His providential meeting with Jane triggered his interest in human beings. He and Jane married and returned homewards and had a son. But the lure of the jungle proved too strong and they came back. Being immortal, they still live there! Who can forget the lovable Mowgli, the brain-child of Rudyard Kipling and now immortalized by Disney? He too is pictured as strong and intelligent and he too succumbs to the call that comes from the world of human beings.  Is it really possible for animals to nurture human babies in such a way that they fulfill their potential?

From time to time through history, apparently wild-children have appeared in society, children who, it seems, were reared by animals. The first recorded case is that of a wolf-boy found in 1344, in Hesse, Germany. Taken by wolves at the age of three, he was found by Benedictine monks who fed him the best of meat. He is believed to have said however that he preferred living with the wolves. He was taken to the court of King Henry of Hesse. A little later a second boy was found, but he did not like being captured, refused food and died soon after. India too has had its share of wolf-children. In 1920, a priest, Rev. J.A.L. Singh who ran an orphanage and church school in Midnapore, heard of manush-baghas (man-beasts). They had made their den in an abandoned termite mound. He saw them himself one night and returned at day with helpers to dig them out. Two wolves darted out and escaped but a third, a female, attacked the men, who shot it. Rev. Singh took the two girls found curled up, to the orphanage and tried to 'humanize' them. It was not an easy task for they ran on all fours, hated day-light and howled like wolves. They were named Amala and Kamala. Amala died less than a year later. Kamala lived for nine years, learned to walk upright and utter a few words. The Lucknow wolf-boy Ramu was found in 1954. He was taken to Balrampur hospital. His knees and hands were calloused and he had pointed teeth and scars on the back of his neck. Interestingly a couple came forward to claim him as their son. They said he had been snatched away by wolves when he was asleep on his mother's lap. He was recognized by a mark on his forehead and a bluish patch on his thigh. He showed no interest in human beings and became highly excited at the sight of wolves in a zoo. He lapped milk, tore meat apart and was happy to chew on bones. He spent 14 years at the Lucknow hospital and died in 1968. Scientists are divided on the question of animals rearing human beings successfully.

There are those who hold that such children are really those that are retarded and abandoned by their parents. It is difficult however to dismiss the thought that animals which often display extraordinary intelligence are indeed capable of rearing human beings.