In a new book, Mrs Marina Chapman, from Yorkshire, England, reveals how a colony of capuchins in the Colombian jungle taught her how to survive after she was abandoned in the rainforest by kidnappers who botched her abduction.
She copied the monkeys’ eating habits and high-pitched cries and even learned to climb trees, though she slept in a hollowed-out tree trunk at night. And on one occasion a monkey she called Grandpa because of his sprinkles of white fur cured a crippling stomach pain by leading her to the river and encouraging her to drink until she vomited.
Mrs Chapman’s story – which has echoes of the Tarzan tales – began in the Fifties when she was drugged and abducted from her Colombian home at the age of four.
Experts have found no evidence that her story is a fantasy.
In her memoirs, The Girl With No Name, Mrs Chapman recalls the moment she awoke to find herself in the forest.
“At a distance of several paces were monkeys staring at me. After a short time, one of the monkeys left the circle and approached me. Afraid, I shrank back into a ball, trying to make myself as tiny as possible,” she says.
“He reached out a wrinkly brown hand and, with one firm push, rolled me over on to my side. I quivered on the soil, tensed for the second blow that was surely coming.
“But it didn’t – the monkey had lost interest. He had now returned to the circle, squatted back on his hind legs and resumed watching me, along with all the others. Then they all seemed to want to inspect me.”
She said the way they enjoyed each other’s company ‘made them feel like a family’ – and although there were nights when she cried for hours out of loneliness, she also felt happy to be with the monkeys and realised ‘I was gradually turning into one of them’.
She said she was later rescued by hunters and sold into prostitution before ending up in England, marrying a church organist. Now a mother of two and grandmother of three, she lives with her husband John in a three-bedroom semi in a middle-class suburb of Bradford.
She thinks she is in her 50;s but cannot be sure of her birth-date.
Her claims were met with incredulity when they surfaced last year, but they have withstood scrutiny, and now National Geographic is planning a documentary about her. Mrs Chapman’s daughter Vanessa, 28, describes her mother as “wild and spontaneous”, adding ‘She was sometimes criticised for her style of parenting, but her only example was from a troop of monkeys.”
Experts say monkeys are known to accept young humans into their fold. In 1991, a six-year-old Ugandan boy, John Ssebunya, was found in a tree having spent three years in the wild, cared for in part by vervet monkeys; and a two-year-old boy known as Bello was found living with chimpanzees in Nigeria in 1996.
by Robbo Green