In 1845, so the legend goes, an unclothed girl was spotted running on all fours through the wilderness near Del Rio, Texas, appearing barely human. Joined by a pack of wolves, the young girl allegedly attacked a herd of goats. The tale, though often ridiculed, spread like wildfire, and before long a group of Mexican vaqueros teamed up to hunt for the mythical Lobo Wolf Girl.
On the third day of searching, the group supposedly captured the young girl by Espantosa Lake, surrounded by wolves. She was captured but soon escaped, tearing planks off a boarded-up window and escaping without a trace into the night. In 1852, she was said to be spotted for the final time, suckling two wolf cubs. After that, she was never seen or heard from again.
Stories like this, hovering in an area closer to fiction than truth, reappear throughout history, popping up in different spots around the globe for centuries. Every story is unique yet familiar -- a child, lost or neglected, takes up in the wild with the creatures residing there, adapting to their characteristics and modes of survival, slowly melting into their species. Instances of such feral children have been reported from 1845 to 2008, in habitats ranging from Cambodia to Russia to the United States.
Around two years ago, photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten encountered one such tale in the book The Girl with No Name. "The book tells the story of Marina Chapman, who as a 5-year old was kidnapped from her home and then left completely alone in a jungle in Colombia," Fullerton-Batten explained to The Huffington Post. "She survived for five years by co-existing with a band of capuchin monkeys, living a completely feral existence, before being ‘rescued’ and experiencing other misadventures."
The riveting story inspired the photographer to investigate further, digging up unbelievable tales of children in the wild, without language, culture, human contact.
"As a mother of two young boys I was appalled and intrigued in turn the more I learned about these cases," the photographer said. "My initial reactions were to question how parents could lose and especially neglect their child. My maternal instinct went into overdrive when I considered how these babies, toddlers and young people experienced their lives alone or in the company of wild animals.
"I then admired the fortitude they must have shown to survive such isolation and extreme circumstances, weather, hunger, illness. In any of the circumstances that I have read about, it completely overwhelms the boundaries of my comprehension."
Out of this morbid fascination grew inspiration. Fullerton-Batten resolved to recreate the unfathomable scenarios experienced by a variety of mythologized feral children, visualizing what to many is too unusual to even imagine.
After conducting some research of her own, Fullerton-Batten consulted anthropologist and broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota, who is fluent in the subject. Ochota even met three former feral children, now adults living in Fiji, Uganda and Ukraine. Fullerton-Batten also spoke with Vanessa James, co-author of Marin Chapman’s book.
Fullerton-Batten's photographs are meticulously cast and staged, conjuring far out visions of children mingling amongst birds, dogs, monkeys and leopards. "The casting was incredibly important as I needed the children to have great acting abilities but also be the right age, body frame, skin and hair color, and facial characteristics." Sourcing and photographing the live animals was no easy feat either.
"This project is intended to heighten the awareness that such cases have existed in the past and that they can still be occurring somewhere in the world, especially in the light of the world’s current turmoil," Fullerton-Batton explained. The resulting images bring 15 haunting tales to life in excruciating detail, conjuring a flood of emotions ranging from intrigue to fear to pure awe.
The following photographs recreate the most bizarre tales of feral children culled from radically disparate times and places, accompanied by summaries of each story written by the artist. According to legend, most feral children, denied the power of language, think in terms of images instead of words. So it seems fitting to digest their stories in this visual form.