The truth behind myths and legends
In 2016, at least 5 movies were released with wolves as a central theme, from the B-series scenario - a man is recruited by the Allies during World War II specifically for his ability to become a werewolf and stop a Nazi plot to release poison gas on England in The Wolf's Hour - to the sweet cartoon - for example Sheep and Wolves: "In a magical faraway land, in a quaint little village nestled among green meadows and hills, lives a carefree herd of sheep. But their stress-free pastoral life is interrupted when a pack of wolves settles in the nearby ravine". And this after the films Wolf, Wolf Totem, Get the Last Wolf, and the series Teen Wolf, season 5, in 2015.
Since ancient times, man has always imagined more or less fantastic stories about wolves. In the Middle Ages, werewolves, men who changed into wolves at nightfall, were caught and burned with witches. There are also stories of wild children raised by wolves, Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome being the most famous example. How much of the reality and truth about the wolves' way of life lies behind this fascination?
The werewolf: our fantasies take shape
Today the werewolf, or lycanthrope to use the scientific term, is one of the many fantastic and mysterious beings that populate our TV series, films, and novels, alongside vampires, witches, and other zombies. We love to frighten ourselves with these stories, largely phantasmagorical, that flirt with death and Satanism.
But it is certain that in Europe, at a certain time, especially between the 13th and 18th centuries, people were convinced that there were men, sometimes women or children, who changed into wolves at nightfall and wandered through the countryside in search of human prey.
In contrast to our modern portraits, which mostly show a man changing into a hairy animal with large teeth and sharp claws, the medieval creature was described rather as pale, with a greenish complexion, reddened eyes and teeth, receding eyes and a confused mind, wandering through the countryside at night.
Werewolves could have been real humans
For several centuries, especially during the Inquisition, werewolves were persecuted as witches for heresy and demonic pacts. Then, little by little, this belief disappeared, along with the wolves themselves.
The truth? According to Dr. Illis, a doctor at Guy's Hospital in London, they were, in fact, people suffering from a rare disease, porphyria, which produces precisely the symptoms described above: greenish complexion, reddened eyes and teeth, confused mind and, above all, extreme sensitivity to daylight.
The patients also had many ulcers on their skin, which formed the scars that the villagers thought were wolf bites and scratches.
Wolf children: a sad reality
There are many stories about abandoned children who survive in the jungle or the forest thanks to animals. Everyone knows Mowgli, the little Indian child from the Jungle Book, who is lost in the jungle by his family and adopted by wolves. Tarzan, the offspring of the English lord, is raised by monkeys. Not to mention the famous Roman twins Romus and Romulus. So much for literature. But there are many cases of true wild children.
In the 18th century in France, two famous examples were chronicled: that of Victor de l'Aveyron, the subject of the film L'enfant sauvage, by François Truffaut, and that of Marie-Angélique Le Blanc, La fille sauvage de Champagne, who survived alone in the forest for 10 years, before being found by villagers in September 1731.
In Russia, the young Lyokha, found in 2007, is said to have been raised by wolves. He was taken into care in a Moscow hospital before escaping. He is suspected of living again in the wild. There is also the case of Natasha, a five-year-old girl, who was found in Tchita in Siberia in May 2009. She was locked up in an unsanitary room with cats and dogs who probably raised her. The girl behaved like a dog, stoned, jumped and barked to communicate.
In India, there have been many cases of wild children, the best known of which is that of Amala and Kamala, the "little wolf girls" discovered in 1920 in Bengal, who are said to have lived in a family of wolves before being found by an English missionary. In May 1972 a four-year-old boy was found playing with cubs in a forest about 30 kilometers from Sultanpur. He had very matt skin, long curved nails, and many calluses on his hands, elbows, and knees. His teeth were sharp, he hunted chickens and drank their blood, liked to walk at night and frequented dogs and jackals in preference to men.
What's the truth behind the wolf children's stories?
Some of these stories have obviously been fabricated, others seem authentic. Serge Aroles, in L'Enigme des enfants-loup, states that, while everything seems to prove that Marie-Angélique Le Blanc really lived alone between the ages of 9 and 19 in the Champagne forest, the story of Amala and Kamala is a scam fabricated by Reverend Singh, the man who supposedly found them. In fact, they were two dumb children that he had in his orphanage and that he beat to make them crawl on all fours and moan like animals.
Why would a wolf take care of a baby?
Now, if it is materially possible for a child to live alone among wild animals, why would a she-wolf take care of a little human?
According to specialists, for example, Dr. David Mech, author of numerous books on wolves and director of the International Wolf Center, wolves are not hostile to humans, if they are not attacked by them, and can accept the presence of a human in their midst. The proof: Mech himself has integrated packs of wild wolves in Canada.
The wolves are very cooperative and take care, for example, of cubs orphaned by the death of their mother. One could, therefore, imagine a wolf cub adopting a human child. In any case, Natasha's case shows that dogs can do it and the wolves' behavior is quite similar to that of dogs.
In the end, it is very difficult to know more for sure. You can hardly put a baby in a pack to see how it goes! That said, scientists working on animal behavior are discovering amazing facts about their intelligence and social organization every day, and one day we may have scientific confirmation of this possibility. There is no doubt, however, that our fantasies about wolves will continue for a long time and will be fuelled by many films, good or bad, in the coming years.