How Feral Children Work

Who's Savage?

Smile! It's your potential new family of capuchin monkeys!
Smile! It's your potential new family of capuchin monkeys!
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As sad as they often are, stories of wild kids also show just how adaptable and resourceful we can be, even at our earliest, most vulnerable stages of development.

These cases also put the lie to the essentialist idea that the natural world is always a cruel and unforgiving environment. So many of these stories, in fact, offer exemplary accounts of interspecies relationships. In story after story, animals care for, or at the very least tolerate, defenseless human children and show them how to survive in the wild.

Marina Chapman, for instance, would almost certainly have died if it weren't for a group of monkeys. In 2013 Chapman was a British housewife when she published a memoir that revealed her extraordinary backstory. Marina wasn't born in the U.K. She came, in fact, from a remote South American village. In the mid-1950s when she was just 5, she was kidnapped from her home and then later abandoned in the jungle.

Luckily for her, she happened upon a band of tiny, super-cute capuchin monkeys. She followed them around until, at one point, she developed food poisoning from a tamarind fruit. She felt like she was dying when an older monkey, whom she later dubbed "grandpa," led her to water. After she drank, she threw up and began to get better, at which point the band let her tag along with them. For the next five years she lived with the monkeys, adopting their ways right down to diet, four-legged walking, tree-climbing and grooming. In fact, the monkey interlude was probably one of the happiest episodes of her childhood. Humans proved less inclusive.

When she eventually worked up the nerve to seek help from a group of hunters, they sold her to a brothel. She escaped to live life on the streets but was then enslaved by a local gangland family. A neighbor saved her from this fate, and she was adopted in Bogota, Colombia, then went to work as a housekeeper and nanny for a family that emigrated to the U.K. in 1977. There, Marina married, had children and eventually co-authored her memoir with one of her daughters. While there's no way to fully confirm all aspects of Chapman's story, and while some are skeptical about the details, even hardened journalists find her convincing [source: Hattenstone].

Marina's story, like many others about feral children, reveals some of the uglier sides of humanity. In fact, the capuchin monkeys were far more "humane" than many of the other humans Marina encountered in her early years. Nature red in tooth and claw? Not always.