Feral Children and Clever Animals

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Douglas Keith Candland has gathered an extraordinary range of stories about feral children (children thought to have been raised by wild animals) and clever animals (animals raised in human company that show unusual intelligence or that have been trained by researchers to communicate with humans).

The stories begin with the children. Candland has scoured the literature for the available documentation of “wild children,” including Victor, the famous wild boy of Aveyron who was the subject of a film by Francois Truffaut. Perhaps the best documented are the two girls found among wolves in India in 1920 and moved to an orphanage. Candland’s book presents large verbatim sections of the diary of Reverend J. A. L. Singh, their discoverer, as well as five photographs.

Candland them moves to stories of intelligent animals, such as Clever Hans, the horse who could answer a wide range of questions by tapping a hoof. Eventually research by Oscar Pfungst showed that Hans had learned to respond to very subtle visual cues of his handlers and even of strangers.

The latter part of the book covers the research involving human-ape communication, beginning with the first experiments that involved rearing human babies with chimps and then covering the now-famous chimpanzees and gorillas who have learned some form of artificial or sign language: Koko, Washoe, Nim, Sarah, Lana, Sherman, Austin, Kanzi, and Ai.

Candland concluded not that animals are intelligent, which is obvious, but that not much real communication has taken place across species and that, in fact, humans hardly know how to assess communication with other minds. Ultimately such communication, he says, is a myth, but a necessary myth.