Animals have always played a huge part in human civilization. Work animals help us to grow, hunt and harvest food, while in ancient times, they were the primary means of transport. On the other hand, people have long kept pets as a form of companionship, ranging from domestic animals such as cats and dogs, to more exotic animals such as tigers, parrots and even bears. Whatever the case, animals have played an important part in human society for thousands of years. Sometimes though, people don’t just befriend animals or use them to help carry out tasks. Instead, they live with the creatures as one of their own, rather than as an owner.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it’s because a scientist or researcher wants to study the behavior of a specific type of animal, and the only way to do this effectively is to live in the wild amongst them. Over the past few centuries, there have been countless numbers of people who have taken to living with wild animals to examine them in their natural habitat and see how they behave outside of captivity. However, this is not the only reason that people have lived with animals. It can also be a way to raise attention for a particular cause and tragically, may be necessary as a means to survive in the case of abandoned and isolated children. As with Mowgli in The Jungle Book, some children are forced to depend on animals to learn how to defend for themselves, find food and live in relative safety.
What is common though, is that the stories of those who have lived with animals can be truly amazing. Whether it is because of the work carried out by those doing it or because of the heartbreaking circumstances that led to feral children being raised by animals, the amazing people in this article are truly unique and have led exceptional, if sometimes horrific, lives.
10. Timothy Treadwell
Timothy Treadwell was a bear enthusiast who lived with brown bears in the Katmai National Park, almost entirely by himself, for 13 consecutive summers. He became known to the media after films showing him coming in very close contact with the grizzly bears became widespread. Despite safety concerns from many, Treadwell would touch bears and even handle cubs.
Throughout his stays in the Alaskan national parks, Treadwell was also in constant conflict with the park rangers who accused him of disturbing the animals and violating a host of rules. Tragically, Treadwell along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, were mauled to death by a bear. The 46-year-old had stayed in the area longer than was usual and as a result, was coming across more aggressive bears rather than the ones he had become familiar with.
9. Tippi Degre
Born in Namibia to French parents who worked as wildlife photographers, Tippi Degre spent most of her early childhood living in a variety of African countries. During that time, she would often come into close contact with wild animals and became particularly friendly with a specific elephant, leopard and would even touch and play with lion cubs, giraffes, zebras, snakes amongst others. As well as befriending the animals, she also was close to tribesmen and learned to speak their language and survive in the wild. Because she has worked with wild animals from such a young age, Tippi has something of an affinity with them. This has allowed her to travel to various countries to make documentaries and help conservation efforts.
8. Shaun Ellis
Throughout his adult life, Shaun Ellis has spent a significant amount of time living with various wolf packs. This has included living in captivity with the animals to help raise pups and also living with wild wolves for up to two years, in order to conduct research and study the animals. Even when not living directly with Wolves, Ellis would often live in very close proximity so that he could spend as much time as possible with the animals. This was the case when he had a home just outside of Combe Martin Wildlife Park, so that he could visit the wolf enclosure at all times. He has used his unique perspective of wolf behavior and the research he has carried out, in order to try to come up with methods to stop wolves from coming in close contact with humans, to prevent them from posing any danger to themselves or people.
7. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is perhaps one of the most famous field researchers in the world, thanks to her work in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, from 1960 on-wards. Over the course of thirty years, she developed strong relationships with some chimpanzees and remains the only person to have been successfully accepted into a chimpanzee troupe. The researcher would exchange hugs, kisses and other social cues with the animals, including tickling, while living with them.
Her work went on to become important for the study of primates, with Goodall discovering several previously completely unknown facts about chimpanzees. This included the fact that they had more sophisticated intelligence than previously thought and the fact that they had the ability to use tools and modify objects to work better. Additionally, she also found that chimpanzees were not vegetarians and would actually hunt smaller animals and that they actually lived in smaller groups rather than in very large numbers, as previously thought.
6. John Ssebunya
John Ssebunya was just two or three years old when his father killed his mother and then fled, leaving the young child completely defenseless. While most children of that age would not be able to survive without the care of adults, John was able to stave off hunger and keep warm, thanks to the help of a collection of monkeys. Speaking after he was found three years later, he stated that around five small monkeys had approached him, possibly because he himself, was only very small and harmless, and became friendly after about two weeks. They first brought nuts and roots to eat but then later, went on to teach him how to search for food and to avoid danger by climbing trees. John lived with them until he was found by a villager and adopted by a couple who have helped him adapt to human society.
5. James Joblon
In 2011, a founder of a rehabilitation center for animals in Hernando County near Tampa, spent a month living in the lion enclosure. The plan was to raise awareness of the sanctuary and to gather donations to help keep it open. With live feeds available for anyone to view over the internet and a microphone, the former stockbroker slept, ate and wrestled with the lions, with just a few scratches and scrapes to show for his efforts. Joblon estimated he received just over $75,000 in donations over the four weeks he lived in the enclosure, enough to run the sanctuary for half a year. This meant that the tigers, cougars, lemurs, emus and monkeys who cannot be released into the wild, were able to be looked after appropriately.
4. Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was perhaps the greatest authority on the behavior and physiology of mountain gorillas, thanks to the years she spent living with the great apes in Congo and Rwanda. She spent several months observing the animals before eventually becoming familiar with them and was then able to socialize with them.
She also has a bestselling book that was later adapted into the hit film Gorillas in the Mist, giving more exposure to her work and the conservation of mountain gorillas. Unfortunately, the researcher and conservationist was mysteriously killed on December 27, 1985, in the bedroom of her cabin. The Rwandan courts would go on to convict Wayne McGuire for her murder, despite the fact he had left the country, giving little closure to the events.
3. Traian Caldarar
Traian Caldarar is a boy who grew up in Romania. At the age of around three or four, he escaped from his abusive father and without knowing anywhere else to go, simply ended up living wild. When he was found (aged seven) in 2002, Traian was severely malnourished and had not grown to the size that would usually be expected for children of that age. From what investigators and doctors could piece together, the boy had been living rough and had only survived thanks to the help of the stray dogs that are numerous in the area. Without their help, Traian would almost certainly have died. Police who rescued the child noticed his animalistic behaviors and the fact that he would growl and grunt, rather than talk.
2. Marcos Rodriguez Pantoja
Rather than living with any particular set of animals, Marcos Rodriguez Pantoja became friendly with a wide variety of animals during his 12 years of living in a mountainous region. After the farmer who had bought him from his family had died, Pantoja was left alone in an unfamiliar area. To survive, he hunted rabbits and milked goats left on the farm. While he learned to live with the different animals, he had especially strong bonds with a snake who he met in a cave and fed, and a family of wolves that went on to protect him and fend of loneliness. After 12 years living wild, local police who found him and later brought him back to society. He now lives in a small village called Rante.
1. Marina Chapman
At just five years of age, Marina Chapman was kidnapped from her home and driven deep into the Colombian jungle, where she was later dumped. Unable to find any form of human civilization, she eventually came across Capuchin monkeys who, rather than adopt her as part of the family, tolerated her and allowed the child to live with them. Thanks to their help, Marina was able to scavenge for fruit and other food and survive in the harsh environment. After spending around five years with the animals, she forgot most of her human language and began walking on all fours. She was later rescued by hunters who then sold her to a brothel before she escaped and was able to settle in Bradford, United Kingdom, to live a relatively normal life.