Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Wild Boy

While the doctors and anthropologists were never able to prove their theory, they were convinced that the child had to be the sole survivor of a remote plane crash.  In addition, although they could not say with any certainty how many years ago the accident had happened (which meant that no one knew for sure at what age the child had been left alone in the wilderness), most of the scientists believed that the child had to have been at least a toddler. 

There were some facts on which the anthropologists could all agree:  when rescued, the child was approximately twelve years old, he neither spoke nor understood any human language, and he was functioning as an independent member of a family unit of undomesticated canines.

Put simply, the feral child had been raised by wild dogs.  Many of the scientists who studied him in the first years post-rescue could exhibit the scars of bite marks to attest to the fact.

While most people believe that the stories of feral children raised by animals are solely the work of fiction by such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling, there are dozens of documented cases of young children being raised by dogs, monkeys, wolves, and—in one particularly bizarre case—a two year-old child who lived to age twelve with ostriches in the Western Sahara.

But I digress.  When "The Wild Boy" was rescued, it was impossible to determine how long he'd been among the dogs, but the scientists theorized that the child had gained the trust of the dogs by helping them obtain food.  Since the pack had lived on the outskirts of a small town, it was believed that trash cans were frequently scavenged for food scraps. 

When rescued, the feral child was suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency and he was filthy, infested with fleas, and covered with a bewildering assortment of scrapes, cuts, and scars—many of which had not completely healed.  When discovered, he was nude, and preferred walking on all fours, only walking upright for short distances.  He was also terrified, violently aggressive, and desperate to escape.  It is doubtful that the child’s first year after being rescued would have been possible had it not been for the tranquilizers that his doctors surreptitiously added to his water.

In time, the boy, who was nicknamed Joe by the scientists who cared for him, began to warily accept his new surroundings, and he ceased to be hostile.  The change in attitude was probably due to the change in his diet, because for the first time in his life, he was well fed.  Like any wild animal, satiation brought him, if not tranquility, then at least a more relaxed attitude.

Joe then learned quickly:  at first, he simply copied the actions of those around him, but eventually he demonstrated that he understood what was happening in his lessons.  It did not take long for him to begin talking and in a matter of just a few weeks, his vocabulary grew to several hundred words.

For the scientists, Joe's rapid learning initiated a heated argument:  Was Joe naturally intelligent or had his years of struggling for survival honed his skills at adaptation?  This was a new twist on the old ‘nature versus nurture’ argument.  While the scientists could not reach any conclusions, everyone could agree that Joe was developing and learning at an incredible rate.

By the time Joe had been rescued for a full year, he was academically the equivalent of a first grader, matching a student chronologically half his age.   Two years later, however, Joe had progressed to doing work at the high school level.  Joe began to devour books, often reading several at a time, to the exclusion of everything else around him, for hours at a time. 

Joe's social skills did not progress nearly as fast, however.  The subtle interplay between people, the unspoken rules of human society, and the niceties of group interaction among Homo sapiens were completely lost on him, despite his previous obvious mastery of canine society.  He social skills were  entirely based on what scientists politely referred to as "pack mentality".  Joe was direct, aggressive, and completely lacking in empathy, which was usually demonstrated by a complete disinterest in the activities of other humans unless they directly involved him. 

It was devoutly hoped that these interpersonal skills would develop in time. 

Five years after Joe's rescue, he had earned his high school equivalency degree, and had been accepted at Harvard University.  Whether his acceptance was for his commendable SAT scores or for the universities' desire to acquire a student with a unique claim of diversity was never disclosed, but without a doubt, Joe was actively courted by several Ivy League schools—despite the fact that his applications could list no traditional extracurricular activities.

"In just five years, Joe made remarkable progress, he went from being incapable of understanding simple human speech to reading at a college level in the same amount of time it takes most humans to grasp basic math skills," said Dr. Tomlinson, the head of the team that had nurtured Joe since his rescue.

Just how well Joe could have eventually reintegrated into human society will never be known, since the once feral child died before he could start his studies at the university. 

As Dr. Tomlinson said, ”It’s a damn shame that Joe was accidentally killed in a senseless traffic accident.  We could just never get him to stop chasing cars."

1 comment:

  1. Dang! You had me going. I usually smell a rat earlier. Truly a masterpiece in tall tale telling. I bow to your skill in the purveyance of BS.