Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja is a man with an incredible life story that seems to have been taken straight out of Rudyard Kipling’s books. Abandoned as a child, Pantoja managed to survive in the wild for 15 years and shared his food with a pack of wolves. The little boy suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of his stepmother, so he took to the wilderness to escape.
In the mountains, he had to fend for himself, and he only re-entered society at the age of 19. The shock of civilization had a profound impact on young Marcos, and his story is one of the most extraordinary tales of a human who lived for so long in the wilderness with animals that human society was a frightening place for him. This is the story of real-life Mowgli, who is now 72 years old and lives in a small house in the village of Rante, Spain.
In 1965, the story of a Spanish man who was found by the Civil Guard living in complete isolation in the Sierra Morena Mountains shocked the entire world. His story was so incredible that many believed it was made up, but after anthropologists studied his case, it was revealed that his experience was indeed real.
When he finally got out of the woods, Pantoja had to deal with things such as boiled water or listening to people on the radio. Because of all that was unknown to him, he ended up burning himself with a bowl of soup because he didn’t have the notion of things being hot. He also spent hours trying to figure out how people got inside the radio as they seemed to be talking while trapped in a wooden box.
Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja was born in the small city of Añora, Spain, on June 7, 1946. When he was just a couple of years old, he moved to Madrid with his parents, where his mother died during childbirth. The baby should have been Marcos’ third sibling but died shortly after the mother. At the time, Marcos was three years old.
After his wife’s premature death, Marcos’ father remarried to a woman who also had a child from a previous marriage. From the beginning, Marcos was subjected to cruelty and abuse from his stepmother. Eventually, the entire family left Madrid for Fuencaliente in the Sierra Morena Mountains, where the father got a job in the coal manufacturing industry.
By the time he was seven years old, Marcos had been severely abused, and in 1954 his father sold him to a local landowner who wanted to use him as a slave for his goatherd. At some point soon after, the child was abandoned in the woods and was never seen again until 1965 when the Civil Guard found him living in complete isolation and in the company of wolves.
According to the police, the young man howled like a wolf when he was found, and he needed to be moved to the nearby city of Fuencaliente forcefully. It took years for Marcos to learn how to speak and walk upright again, and he was taught how to dress and eat with cutlery by nuns from a local hospital.
One of the many mysteries surrounding the story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja is what happened to him after his father sold him to a goat-herder to become a slave. He was initially taken to the mountains to take care of 300 animals and was left alone after old goatherd died. The goat-herder taught the boy how to use fire and different utensils, but he suddenly disappeared from his life, probably because he died suddenly.
After the goat-herder’s death, Marcos was left completely alone and had to fend for himself. He was approximately seven years old at the time, and after living with wolves for more than 11 years, he wasn’t able to utter comprehensible words anymore, and he was swapping them for grunts.
When he was left alone to fend for himself, Marcos went out to the woods because he was hungry and had some skills he gathered from his former master. He soon learned to hunt rabbits by himself with traps he built from sticks and leaves. “The animals guided me as to what to eat. Whatever they ate, I ate,” Marcos later said.
“The wild boars ate tubers buried under the soil. They found them because they smelled them. When they were digging the soil looking for them, I threw a stone at them – they would run away, and then I would steal the tubers.”
Because the story of being raised by wolves is not very easy to believe, particularly because it is very similar to the fictional character of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” many questioned Marcos’ statement that he had established a special bond with a pack of wolves.
According to his story, Marcos went one day into a cave where he proceeded to play with some wolf cubs that lived there. He then fell asleep, and when the mother of the cubs came back with food, she didn’t have the reaction that anyone would expect her to have.
Marcos recounts in detail the moment he found himself face-to-face with the she-wolf. “She saw me and looked fiercely at me. The wolf started to rip the meat apart. A cub got close to me, and I tried to steal his food because I was hungry as well. The mother pawed at me. I backed off.”
Marcos obviously needed to proceed with caution if he didn’t’ want to get hurt. Fortunately for him, the she-wolf tucked in her motherly instincts and proceeded to feed him instead of attacking.
“After feeding her pups, she threw me a piece of meat. I didn’t want to touch it because I thought she was going to attack me, but she was pushing the meat with her nose,” remembered Marcos in an interview for BBC News in 2013.
He then mentioned that it wasn’t long until he was welcomed as a part of the family. “I took it, ate it, and thought she was going to bite me, but she put her tongue out and started to lick me. After that, I was one of the family.” But wolves weren’t the only animals in those woods that became like an adoptive family to Marcos.
Besides the pack of wolves who decided to welcome him as a member of the family and feed him, Marcos also had another companion in the form of a snake. This time, it was Marcos who took care of the snake.
“She lived with me in a cave that was part of an abandoned mine. I made a nest for her and gave her milk from the goats. She followed me everywhere and protected me,” he said. These relationships with animals kept the little boy’s loneliness at bay but also taught him invaluable surviving skills and an entirely different way to communicate.
Marcos mentioned that he was only feeling lonely when he couldn’t hear any of the animals close to him. Over time, he learned how to imitate their call, and even after 50 years, he can still produce the sounds of a fox, the deer, and other animals. He started to call them because when they answered, he could go to sleep, knowing that he hadn’t been abandoned.
It was probably during the first years that Marcos stopped using words and replaced them with sounds he learned from the various animals that were surrounding him. By the time he was found by Guardia Civil, he wasn’t talking at all, and he had to be taken from the woods by force because he wouldn’t cooperate.
Because Marcos wasn’t raised by wolves from his very young years, many question the story because the boy couldn’t speak anymore when he was found. While some theories say that language is instinctive and inborn and as such you can’t forget it once you learn it, some theories argue that young children need constant practice throughout their first years to be able to preserve their linguistic skills.
Marcos was not only a young child, but also an abused one, so it is very easy to assume that he never had excellent verbal communication skills. It can also be assumed that because he was confined in isolation even by his own father and stepmother before he went to live with the wolves, he lacked the basic skills that are usually picked up in the process of immersion in a specific culture.
Because Marcos wouldn’t speak, the members of the Guardia Civil couldn’t identify him on the spot. After he was taken to the small village at the foot of the mountains, local people connected the dots, and his father was brought in to identify Marcos.
Back in human society, Marcos had a lot of trouble adjusting, and one of the things that bothered him the most was the constant noise. “I could not cope with so much noise… People went everywhere! I was scared of crossing the road!” he later said. While it took him a while to start speaking again, Marcos would still cry, and apparently, he did it because he knew that animals cry too.
Like in the cases of most documented instances of feral children, Marcos was severely impaired when it came to the development of his social skills even before he was left completely isolated. This often happens with feral children, as most of them experienced severe trauma before running away or being abandoned.
Because of this, Marcos never fully integrated into society after he was rescued from the woods. His language skills also never developed as they should, because the young man would not overcome the damage done by the extended isolation to his social and language potential.
When Marcos managed to tell his story, he mentioned that his only happy memories from childhood where those from the years he spent in the woods with the wolves. According to his story, he was accepted as a brother by the wolf cubs, and that she-wolf fed him and was like the mother he never had.
He remembers that he used to sleep in a cave along with snakes, deer, and bats and that he learned how to survive by watching different animals. The deer and other animals also taught Marcos, which mushrooms and berries were safe, as he was mimicking their behavior.
Because he was only discovered by the civil guard in the woods when he was 19 years old, the former wolf boy never managed to recover completely and reintegrate into society. He mentioned multiple times that he had a lot of problems struggling with the coldness of the human world.
This was not something that affected him when he was running around half-naked and barefooted with the wolves. What he never got over the abuse from his childhood and the subsequent exploitation by bosses in the hospitality and construction industries, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, was accepted by his neighbors as one of them even though in his heart he never fully reintegrated with the human tribe.
After he joined the human society, Marcos has worked in several hospitality and construction jobs, where he experienced a lot of abuse over the years, mainly because he couldn’t integrate completely back into civilization. Today he is retired and lives off of his pension, which is not enough to cover all of his basic needs.
He’s sponsored by the Dutch family, and he’s often invited by various associations and city councils to talk about his experience. He was also featured in multiple television programs and interviewed by major news outlets, including the BBC, the Guardian, and El Pais.
Marcos admitted that he tried multiple times to return to the mountains to be there again in a bid to escape from human society in which he couldn’t find his place. However, he never returned there again because, according to him, “it is not what it used to be.” The cave where he lived is not there anymore, as it was replaced by cottages. Moreover, the wolves don’t approach him anymore, and Marcos believes the reason for that is because he smells like people.
“You can tell that they are right there, you hear them panting, it gives you goosebumps … but it’s not that easy to see them,” Marcos said with a bit of sadness in an interview for El Pais. “There are wolves, and if I call out to them, they are going to respond, but they are not going to approach me,” he explained.
Because it is such an unusual story, the upbringing of a boy by wolves in the mountains of Spain has raised eyebrows. From the reasons behind his father’s abandonment to the way the child managed to survive for more than 11 years alone in a forest, there are numerous points of interest for anthropologists and journalists.
His experience has been the subject of multiple books and studies, as well as the 2010 film “Among Wolves,” directed by Gerardo Olivares. But everyone wonders just how truly the entire experience is. It’s not that people don’t believe him, but they also think some of the elements from Marcos’ story are just the product of his imagination.
Dr. Gabriel Janer Manila is an anthropologist of the University of the Balearic Islands and a Spanish writer who wrote his thesis on this particular case and later published a novel about Marcos’ life. He believes that some things Marcos remembers have been filtered by his imagination.
“What happens is that Marcos does not tell us what happened, but what he believes happened,” says Dr. Manila. “When Marcos sees a snake and gives her milk, and then the snake comes back, he says she’s his friend. The snake is not his ‘friend.’ She is following him because he gives her milk.”
According to Dr. Manila, Marcos had to dig deep into his imagination to be able to survive in the solitude of the woods. This is the reason he sometimes remembers things a certain way, but always narrates them consistently. This consistency is the reason Dr. Manila was convinced his story was true, even though at first, like many other people, he did not believe him.
“I thought, ‘It cannot be.’ But the story was so consistent and so well told, and also, every time I asked him about it, he would tell me the story using the same words. So, I said to myself, I will have to check all this,” said Dr. Manila in an interview for BBC News.
To be able to corroborate Marcus’ story, Janer Manila talked to many of the people who encountered Marcos at the time he was found isolated in the woods. “I talked to people who had engaged with him when he was found, with people who welcomed him in their homes, with the employee who bathed him for the first time, with a seminarian who took care of him…”
All the people the anthropologist talked to confirm the way Marcus was ignoring all social roles at the time he was found, while also highlighting his wild character. Everything they said made Dr. Manila believe the story was indeed true.
Janer Manila is positive that if Marcus’ story wasn’t true, it would have changed over the years. But when he saw the former feral child giving interviews decades later, he realized that he was always telling the story the way he remembered it, and always using approximately the same words.
Whether Marcos’ version of what happened to him in the woods it is entirely true or based on true events intertwined with a figment of his imagination, the story is conclusive with his inability to follow the rules of the game. It also came out in the way he behaved right after he was found and for the following years.
According to anthropologists, it is possible to abandon human language even if a child had time to learn it before becoming isolated. Janer Manila believes that the causes of the boy’s abandonment were deliberate and possibly a result of the extreme poverty his family was living in.
Even though in the first phase of his abandonment Marcos had acquired some skills from civilization as well as language skills, he learned the noises of the animals he was living with and switched to that particular communication type while abandoning his long-lost human language.
Marcus mentioned multiple times that one of the most difficult things he had to overcome in his life was the moment when he was brought back to civilization he had to become familiarised with the human customs. From learning how to eat with cutlery to wearing clothes and speaking with humans, Marcos learned to adapt, but never overcame his preference for life in nature and with animals.
At some point, he mentioned that life with humans is worse than that he had experienced with animals and that he disliked the smell and noise of the cities. Moreover, he underlines that he wasn’t offered much help when he was reintroduced into society and that his reintegration would have been smoother with intervention from the state.
Marcos experienced a lot of acts of kindness throughout his life. Still, they were mostly overshadowed by the abuse he suffered at the hands of his employers in the hospitality and construction fields. He is adamant that life with the animals in the woods was better and that he struggled much more to adapt to the modern world amongst fellow humans.
“I think they laugh at me because I don’t know about politics or soccer,” he once confessed to his doctor. The doctor reassured him that they are none the wiser and that Marcos should laugh back at them because he had knowledge no one else had.
Learning how to be human wasn’t such a great experience for Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja. In an interview for the Daily Mail in 2018, he mentioned that ever since he was taken away from the cave in the mountains he used to call home, his life only went downhill. He was extremely scared when he returned to civilization and was placed in the care of nuns, who taught him how to eat at a table and walk straight.
Marcus also suffered physically from his time in the woods, and for a brief period, he used a wheelchair because he had thick callouses cut off his feet. The first time he went to a barber was also difficult, because he was extremely scared the razor would cut his throat.
After he was let go from the orphanage, Marcos rented his own room, but couldn’t get his head around sleeping in a bed in the beginning. As such, he used a pile of magazines and blankets to sleep on the floor.
Following a life of doing menial jobs and never fully reintegrating back into society, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja lives alone in a home that doesn’t have insulation. An environmental group is trying to raise money to buy him the isolation he needs for the winter together with a boiler.
Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja spent the better part of his childhood and teenage years in complete freedom, free from the shackles of society as we know it. As such, he had a difficult time understanding some aspects of it once he was reintegrated among his fellow humans. “When I got out of there, the first thing they should have done is send me to a school, teach me to talk, and how to behave in the world,” he said in an interview.
But instead, he was forced to do communion and military service, things he believes he could have done without. “What was the point of making me first do communion and military service? So I could learn to shoot and kill people? ” Marcos argued.
Even though Marcos had several girlfriends in the past, he lived as a single man for most of his life and had no children. He currently lives in Rante, a small Spanish city he has been calling home for the past 15 years. He has lots of memorabilia in his house, with pictures adorning his walls together with snippets from newspapers that published his story all over the world.
Everyone in town knows his story, and today he is treated with respect, even though he could use more help materially. Marcos is retired, but sometimes he lends a hand at the only bar in town because his half pension is not nearly enough to cover his basic needs.
Marcos has no current plans to return to life in the woods. He says that he often thinks about it, but he is now too old to go back. He has become accustomed to the ways of the humans and intends to remain among them for the time he has left.
“I thought about it many times. But I’m used to this life now, and there are so many things that I didn’t have there, like music, for instance, or women. Women are one good reason to stay here,” said Marcos.
It comes as no surprise that the story of a boy who lived alone in the woods for 11 years and only had wolves and snakes for companions would be an excellent subject for a movie. In 2010, the drama “Entre Lobos” (Among Wolves) hit the screens.
It tells the story of a boy who grew up among a pack of wolves in Spain and is very closely based on the true story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja. It was directed and written by Gerardo Olivares, and Marcus gave multiple interviews in that period retelling his story.
There are only about 2,500 wolves remaining today in Spain, and even though many Spaniards want them gone, there are activists who fight to keep them alive. Marcos’ story is often brought into discussion when debating whether the last Iberian wolves should be kept alive.
Jose Ignacio Vega is an activist who fights to protect the wolves, and he strongly believes that they are a source of national pride. He also argues that humans can coexist with these majestic animals, and Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja is a strong argument for his case.
Stories about feral children raised by wild animals were common in the past, but are not very common in modern times. However, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja is not the only feral child documented in the last centuries.
From a wild boy that was kept as a pet by a king to an Indian boy raised by a wolf, stories of this kind are not entirely uncommon. Not all documented feral children lived in the woods, and some of them were girls. Here are some of the most famous cases.
A mute and naked adolescent boy was discovered in the woods of Northern Germany in 1725. The boy eventually became a sort of pet for King George I of Britain, who took him to London and named him “Peter.” All attempts to “civilize” Peter failed, and he became an attraction at the court.
Peter would wander around the palace on all fours and preferred to sleep on the floor. He never spoke, and modern researchers believe he had learning disabilities and an inability to develop speech, which may have been the reason he was abandoned in the woods.
Feral children are not all boys. In 1731, a wild young woman appeared in the village of Songy, France, and she was armed with a club. She preferred to eat raw meat, and her method of communication was to growl and let out animalistic squeaks. Modern researchers believe she was a Meskwaki Indian originally brought to Europe as a slave.
Unlike other feral children, the girl eventually learned to speak and was baptized Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc. She spent most of her life in a convent, and it later emerged that she had escaped to a forest from a life of slavery.
To live until 40 and never utter a sentence seems incredible, but that is what happened to Victor, a boy who was found wandering nearby Aveyron, France. The mute and naked child had lots of scars. That led people to believe he had spent most of his life in the wilderness.
Victor had selective hearing, and even though a consultant managed to get him to bathe and wear clothes, he never uttered a sentence. He eventually died at the age of 40, without grasping the language of humans.
While most feral children have a story that involves woods, this is not always the case. In 1828, a boy who identified himself as Kaspar Hauser claimed that he spent the previous 13 years locked in a small room. Apparently, a mysterious man brought him food every day, but the boy never talked to anyone.
Kaspar Hauser became famous across Europe due to its unbelievable background, even though some believed the story was a hoax. He died of a stab wound in 1833, and it is still not clear if he was a real feral child or just a con man.
Perhaps the most famous “wolf boy” in history, Dina Sanichar, is believed to have been the inspiration for the character “Mowgli” in Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book.” He was discovered in 1867 in a cave in Bulandshahr district, India, by hunters who initially believed he was a wild animal.
The boy was around six years old, and it is believed he spent his entire life in the wilderness. He never learned to speak and preferred to eat raw meat. The missionaries at the Sikandra Mission Orphanage in Agra didn’t manage to rehabilitate him, and the boy died in 1895.
When Matthew Bremner met Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja to interview him for The Guardian, he immediately sensed that there was something different about the septuagenarian that otherwise looked like any other Spanish pensioner. “He found it difficult to look me in the eye and stared intensely at the ground whenever he spoke. He would make a joke, and laugh at himself, only to lose his confidence almost immediately and retreat behind a sheepish, diffident grin,” wrote Bremner.
“He was friendly and talkative, but he seemed overly conscious of my reaction to everything he said: if I looked confused, he was visibly discouraged; if I was enthusiastic, he was suddenly excited and energetic. He always seemed to be anticipating his interlocutor’s scorn,” continued Bremner.
The incredible story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja goes to show that being human is not a given. We learn to become humans by mimicking those around us. However, if those around us happen to be wolves, we would let go of humanity and embrace the lifestyle of another species without a second thought.
Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja is still amazed by simple things such as cigarettes, as he remembers the lengths he would go for starting a fire in another life, one that he shared with wild animals that will always have a special place in his heart. He has found his happy place in Rante among humans, after searching his entire life for the long lost solitude he experienced in the woods.