Baby switch: Human kids fine with animal moms
Q. What are a few of the truly remarkable adoption stories on record? –E. Howell
A. Those involving animals "adopting" humans, usually wolves or wild dogs rearing children, says Deirdre Barrett in Supernormal Stimuli. There have also been cases of bears, monkeys, chimpanzees, and panthers doing likewise.
In 1996, Bello, a two-year-old Nigerian boy, was found after being abandoned at age six months and spending a year and a half with chimpanzees.
"He walked by bending his legs and dragging his arms on the ground and leaped about throwing objects,” Barrett wrote. “So far, he has learned some human language and social behavior but still makes chimpanzee noises amid his speech."
John Ssebunya, abandoned as a two-year-old in the jungle of Uganda, was adopted by a colony of African green ververt monkeys for three years. In 1991, when a tribe took the naked boy to an orphanage, he was more adept at climbing trees than walking and chattered like the monkeys; more recently, he has picked up some human language and now enjoys singing in a church choir.
One of the best documented early cases was in 1920 when Kamala, age eight, and Amala, 18 months, were discovered in a wolves' den in India. Both walked on all fours, ate only raw meat and kept nocturnal hours. Amala died after a year without learning any human language or gait; Kamala lived eight years, picked up a few words and learned to walk upright, though she reverted to all fours when in a hurry.
When human children are found living among animals, their "foster parents" invariably try to prevent their removal. The monkeys harboring John Ssebunya bombarded villagers with sticks and stones; the wolf pack defended Kamala and Amala so fiercely that the adoptive mother had to be shot.
"Reading these cases," says Barrett, "it's not at all clear that people have done these children a favor by returning them to human society to which they never adjust completely."
Q. Can you think of two three-letter words pronounced exactly the same though without any letters in common? –H.M. Onym
A. "You" can if you also call to mind the word "ewe," which pairs with your pronoun as prescribed, says Anu Garg in The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two. Another duo even closer to your self is "I" and "eye," though obviously with different letter counts.
Q. We all tend to like ourselves so much that we also like people who think and act as we do. What's one surprising way this intangible is turned into cool cash by knowing practitioners? –B. D. Challenge
A. Have you noticed that when others nod their heads as you do, you feel a certain rapport and liking? Such mimicry fosters fondness, a common experience, say Rick van Baaren and colleagues, as reported in Social Psychology by David G. Myers. One concrete result is higher tips for Dutch restaurant servers who mirror their customers by merely repeating their orders. Note Jessica Lakin and Tanya Chartrand, natural mimicry increases rapport, and the desire for rapport increases mimicry, tightening the bonds of contentment even as we diners open our wallets wider.
Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at Strangetrue@cs.com