Can Animals Really Take Care of Human Babies?

No human babies here.

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I am asking about humans who were raised by monkeys, wolves, turtles, etc. It sounds like myth, misconception, or at best exaggeration.

Answer by Adriana Heguy, biologist, animal lover:

Turtles? Really? Turtles do not have maternal instincts or take care of their babies. They lay eggs on the beach and take special care to bury them well, so we can remove turtles from this list safely.

Now let’s get to mammals. I do know that there are lists of supposedly “confirmed” cases of feral children, but I’ll be pretty blunt: I don’t buy them. Most of the ones listed in Wikipedia are in need of citations. And many of the cases do not involve infants, but rather young children who were neglected, abused, or semi-abandoned by their parents, and it’s impossible to determine if there were no other adult humans or older children intervening every once in a while at least, to contribute to the child’s survival.

Of course, children who are neglected by their parents may find solace in hanging out with stray dogs for comfort and warmth. And they would likely be trying to act like the dogs, as children have a great need to belong to social groups, as we are highly social animals. But from that to the dogs (or wolves) taking active care of a child is a bit of a stretch. With dogs, one can imagine that the child became friends with a top dog or alpha female wolf and became part of the pack, just like our dogs became part of our human “pack.” This is plausible, but not if we’re talking about a baby. It has to be an older child, 5 years old and up, I’d say, for the kid to have any chances of survival.

If we are talking about primates as the caretakers, I suppose a Tarzan-like scenario would not be completely impossible, if a high-ranking female who maybe had lost her own baby and had a very well-developed maternal instinct took the infant or young toddler under her care. There are documented cases of apes showing extreme tenderness and care toward human children, like the 3-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure or the silverback who protected a 5-year-old boy who fell into the enclosure and even gently went away to allow human rescuers to descend into the pit and bring the child back up. These highly intelligent animals are showing empathy, and this is not really surprising, as their emotions are very similar to ours.

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