Modern-day Mowgli found with pack of wild dogs

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The Independent US

A modern-day Mowgli, found sheltering in a cave with 15 feral dogs in southern Chile, has been rescued by police after two years scavenging with the pack. The scrawny 10-year-old, abandoned by his abusive parents at five months, may even have been suckled by one of the bitches, officers said.

Childcare attendants looking after the boy say he can understand rudimentary Spanish and draw pictures, and must realise he is a human being. "He wasn't reared by the dogs, as such. He lived in a cave with dogs and roamed the streets for food with them. He would eat out of dustbins and find leftovers," Delia Delgatto, the chief of Chile's National Childcare Service, told reporters.

Police were called in by the authorities after the boy was repeatedly seen roaming the streets with the strays. When officers tried to seize him from his adopted canine family on the outskirts of Talcahuano port on Saturday, the boy snarled and struggled violently.

A police spokesman said: "They [the dogs] were like his family. As soon as he saw us he tried to run and a police officer had to dive into the water to save him."

Hurling himself into the wintry Pacific Ocean in an attempt to paddle away led to his capture because the temperature quickly sent the underweight boy into shock. The policeman hauled the frightened runaway to a hospital in Concepcion. He was treated for hypothermia and severe malnutrition before being released to a children's welfare home.

Initial police reports that the boy had been reared from babyhood as a puppy captivated the Chilean press, who nicknamed him "Alex the Dog Boy". In fact, records show that Alex is no whelp but escaped from a care centre two years ago.

Unlike a true feral child, he can walk upright and has some language ability, although his broken front teeth make it hard for him to pronounce words clearly. Photographs showed a black-haired boy with tanned skin and a scar on his left cheek where he gouged himself while trying to fight off police. Handed crayons and paper by the welfare staff, Alex drew a black dog in profile, its tail set to wag.

"He's showing signs of depression, is aggressive and is not speaking much although he does know how to speak," Ms Delgatto said. "He was dirty and had filthy hair."

A police spokesman told the local press that the hungry boy had survived by drinking milk from the teats of the dominant bitch in the pack, but Ms Delgatto was unsure whether he had been nurtured this way. "We can't tell whether he was or he wasn't," she said, and the boy would not confirm it.

Most officials dismissed the tales as fantasies inspired by the classic legend of the Roman twins Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a wild dog.

But there are about 50 documented accounts of feral children brought up by canines. Rudyard Kipling's fictional Mowgli, the best known of all, was based on news reports of a human boy-cub found near Lucknow, in north India, a decade before The Jungle Book was published in 1894. In 1920, north Indian villagers separated two mute and naked wolf girls from their adopted litter.

Amala, just 18 months old, died soon after, but her older sister, Kamala, was studied by behavioural scientists for a year before she died aged nine. She had considerable difficulty acquiring language, and could form only 50 words after months of instruction. She continued to relapse into animal behaviour for comfort, and her teachers despaired of her ever grasping the basics of mathematics or morals.

Young Alex's emotional and mental problems are characterised as "acute" and officials warn that he is extremely violent. Consequently, he is due to be transferred for psychiatric evaluation to a paediatric ward outside Chile's capital, Santiago, within a few days. His parents have not been found.