A date with nature: Valmik Thapar’s Wild Fire is an interesting read

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 07, 2014 11:28 IST

Two days after the destruction of the man-eating wolf the Bheel guide and a crowd of followers turned up at our camp late in the evening, with an object swung on a pole and borne by two men.

It proved to be the wolf-boy, with wrists and ankles firmly bound together and a pole thrust in between—just as one sees a pig carried about by the natives in country places. Marks of severe handling showed themselves all over his body, and bleeding wounds on several of his captors proved that his teeth and long talons had been freely used. We directed his captors to loose his hands and feet, but they declared he would make off at once if they did so.

However, a dog-chain round the waist was all we would permit, and his hands and feet were soon free. Instead of taking to flight he cuddled up hands and feet together, just as children do when asleep.

His hair was long, hanging down to his shoulders, and matted in places. It was of a blackish hue with ends of a sandy brown. His legs and arms were thin and sinewy and showed many a scar and bruise; the stomach large and protuberant, the shoulders rounded. His teeth were worn to stumps in front, but the canines and molars were well developed.


Of wolf children in the wild: Valmik Thapar

On being given a piece of roast mutton he first smelt it, and then fell to greedily, tearing off pieces with the side of his mouth and swallowing them without mastication.

The bone he kept crunching at and gnawing for hours; this explained the worn state of his front teeth. He emitted a strong foxy odour, so that at first even the dogs avoided him, but he appeared to take at once to a large Brinjaree dog of mine, that much resembled a wolf in appearance.


A chinkara watches a great Indian bustard and a wolf in the Rajasathan desert. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

When taken into the tent, he showed a great dread of the light, and no persuasion or threats would get him near it. He at once made for a corner, or under the camp stretcher, and coiled himself up. But he was not allowed to stay in the tent as it was found that his hair swarmed with large ticks, and the smell from his body was overpowering. He was therefore given a truss of straw and chained near to the dogs, and a watchman was told off to look after him.

Next morning we were able to examine our strange captive more closely. He was apparently about ten years old. With difficulty we got him to stand upright. He measured four feet one inch in height. His knees, toes, elbows, and the lower part of his palms were hard, and covered with a horny skin, showing that he habitually crawled on knees and elbows.

He would occasionally get on to his feet, run a few paces, and then fall on to his palms and hurry along much as one sees a monkey do. When moving he was usually on his elbows and knees.


Golden jackals. Photo: Ansar Khan

This mode of progression was probably acquired from having to crouch low when entering and leaving the wolf den. He would not tolerate clothing of any land nor would he use straw. He preferred to scratch a hole in the sand and cuddle himself up in this. We had his hair close cropped and then took him to the river for a wash, but to this he most strongly objected, and it required all the exertions of two syces (grooms) and the mehter (sweeper) to force him into the water.

We could only get him quiet when Nandair, the Brinjaree dog, was washed beside him. He quite took to the big Brinjaree, but showed a strong aversion to a hairy terrier belonging to Cumberledge.

On being shown the skin of the large she-wolf he became quite excited, smelled at it several times, turned it over, and then uttered the most plaintive howls it has ever been my lot to listen to. They resembled somewhat the first cry of a jackal; hence the servants called him Seeall (jackal). After this he would never go near the skin, but showed evident marks of terror when taken near it. He would sleep all day, but became restless at nights, and would then try to escape to the woods.

He would not touch dog-biscuits or rice stewed with meat, but would select all the meat and leave the rice. Raw meat he snatched at greedily. He appeared to be particularly partial to the offal of fowls. When on one occasion the cook threw away the entrails of a chicken in his presence, he instantly seized it and swallowed it before anyone could prevent him. He also showed a strong predilection for carrion. His sense of smell was so acute that he could scent a dead cow or buffalo a long distance off, and at once began tugging at his chain to get to it.


Between 1875 and 1925, 200,000 wolves were killed as vermin. India's bushy wilderness was teeming with wolves and it is impossible to estimate numbers. 19th and early 20th century natural history writing is rich with wolf encounters and the scores of children they killed and snatched from the villages of India. Then there are several unbelievable first hand accounts like this one of wolf children that were supposed to have been nurtured by a pack of wolves in a wolf den! I for one do not think this is possible but...

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