I plan on writing a story about a human born in the wild and raised by wild animals. I have heard of stories of real humans being raised by wild animals, mostly in Africa. I have also done some research on wild animals and figured out that, at least in Africa and Asia, elephants are the best wild animals for raising humans.

They have lots of pros and very few cons.


  • Protection from predators, most lion prides won't even bother with elephants
  • Cross nursing, one of the elephant documentaries I watched was about an orphaned baby elephant being raised by a herd other than the one that had its mom
  • Prehensile trunks
  • Rich milk
  • Very little risk of illness (at least compared to being raised by carnivores)
  • Injury risk is low
  • Can sense vibrations through the ground as well as hear

This is what I think would happen in the best and worst case scenarios of a human being raised in the wilderness:

Best case scenario (raised by elephants if humans aren't nearby):

The baby easily survives and grows up playing with baby elephants. The human ends up easily being able to call to elephants.

Worst case scenario (raised by lions):

The baby has to be super tough to survive. The lion's diet is dangerous to humans. I'm not saying meat itself is dangerous but lions eat raw meat and rotten meat. Both are dangerous, especially rotten meat, but even fresh meat could make a human ill if eaten raw. The baby not only has to survive very bad illnesses and vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamin C deficiency which makes the blood vessels not hold as well and thus bleeding occurs more easily) but also a lot of bites and clawing wounds from not only lionesses but also cubs that want to play and occasionally the male or males. There is no way the baby could survive in a lion pride, even if the lions did not hunt down the baby.

Is it plausible that a human baby would be raised in and survive in an elephant herd?

  • $\begingroup$ What makes you think elephants would raise a human baby? $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Well a baby all alone would die from dehydration if it was lucky to not be hunted by predators. And elephants are in a way similar to us. They are intelligent, have great memory, and protect their babies from predators. A similar thing makes me think that lions, even in the best scenario, would kill a baby. It is their nature that lions are predatory and elephants fiercely protect their young. Elephants will grieve for hours over death in the herd. Death in a lion pride is taken as 1 of 2 things. Pride takeover or grieving(but not as long as an elephant's grieving). $\endgroup$
    – Caters
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ Echo of the Elephants is an old TV programme about how elephants care for a crippled calf when it is born. There are some clips on this webpage. bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0077bbf/clips The elephants are being gentle, but I'm not sure they are being gentle enough to care for a human baby. Also elephant nipples are sized to fit baby elephant mouths, not baby human mouths. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ not to mention how would the baby reach the teet to feed in the first place, it is several feet off the ground after all, and elephants do not make a habit of lying down. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't the elephant grab the baby with her trunk and hold it by the teets until it grabs on so that the baby can drink the elephant milk without the elephant having to lay down? $\endgroup$
    – Caters
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 4:21

3 Answers 3


Unlikely, a very strange happening, but not impossible.

First thing, let's determine how old your baby is, and the differences between an elephant baby and a human.

Baby elephants walk pretty quickly, and human babies don't. It can take anytime between 6 months and two years for a baby to walk (with the average being between 9 months and 1 year). What this means is that your human baby doesn't have the stamina to keep up, and herds move quite a bit. They won't likely have it even when they can walk, so baby would have to be carried a lot--and that would not be hard because elephants can lift a lot with the trunk...

Most cross-species adoptions involve animals with more base similarities, than is true here, especially when it comes to how their young develop--and baby elephants aren't nearly as helpless as humans are by any measure, for any real amount of time. At least with wolves or lions, the pups/kittens are helpless for more than a couple of hours, so they have the instinct to deal with it--if not the milk supply.

And the biggest hurdle is size, which is why I think a toddler would be better than a newborn or a baby, preferably a TALL toddler. I'd say you might want to age your kid up--4 years old, 5 years old, at least.

A newborn elephant is 3 ft tall at birth and while a mother might try to help her baby stand and nurse, they won't necessarily know how to deal with a 6 month old human baby, which will be considerably shorter and who can't walk with the herd.

In Africa, elephants can cover over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a day, if food is scarce, but rarely walk that far. More often they cover a few miles during the day, and sometimes spend most of their time near a water source. The distance that elephant herds travel seems to change during the year.

That is something you want to consider.

Now there's this lion thing you've thrown in--I actually find that a trifle more likely, TO BEGIN WITH, on the kid being baby age. Lionesses have been known to protect babies not of their species just by instinct, from male lions--she'd have to be tough, wary, and ever-watchful, and it would help if the human had some sibs growing up with her/him. The vitamin C deficiency may never be a problem, actually. There's some argument that that raw meat actually contains vitamin C and some of the organs in the body are surprisingly a good source of it.

The true hurdle is how long a baby is helpless, compared to animals, both with the lions and the elephants. It takes us forever to even walk. The upside to your elephants is the long weaning period (up to 10 years sometimes), whereas your lions don't nurse that long--and they start teaching cubs to hunt at 3 months--which, good luck to the baby...and they wean between 6 and 10 months. Humans do the same but...we don't have teeth for a while, and even once we do, we don't have very many for a long time and they aren't up to the task of raw meat. Neither is the digestive system, so again, I'd age up your kid to like 5 years old or something instead of baby aged.

Let's go through the point-by-point on your elephant advantages:

  • Protection from predators, most lion prides won't even bother with elephants Cross nursing, one of the elephant documentaries I watched was about an orphaned baby elephant being raised by a herd other than the one that had its mom. Weak baby elephants still sometimes get picked off by predators who bide their time.
  • Prehensile trunks The advantage here is that your elephants could carry baby without harming them, whereas, a lioness would try to carry by mouth.
  • Rich milk Good point, but your baby has to be tall enough to reach it. Maybe mom can use her trunk to shove baby up there so it can reach? That'll be awkward but not totally impossible, I guess?
  • Very little risk of illness(at least compared to being raised by carnivores)I respectfully disagree. There will be plants that baby or toddler is not equipped to digest or might be poison to humans but fine for elephants. This is a human in the elements, the risk of illness from something eaten is higher than you might think.
  • Injury risk is low Now, you talk about clawing wounds from lions--but--elephants play as well (and stampede--no idea what a crawling baby could do in a dust storm of stampeding elephants, who have the instincts not to run over their several hundred pound babies). Cats have signals used when play gets too rough, as do elephants, but a baby elephant is actually more likely to accidently kill a tiny human than a lion kit would, simply because of the difference in size. Adult elephants can be very gentle, but it is something that they have to learn. Imagine rough and tumble play with a group of 3-4 or 200-lbs babies and who are playing together and a 30lb child comes in between it. Accidents, broken bones, maybe even death can result.
  • Can sense vibrations through the ground as well as hear I am not certain how this would benefit the baby

You list your pros, but NO cons, so--

  • Stampedes
  • getting the runs and dying from it from bad hygiene, eating something your species can't tolerate
  • parasites (just by dint of being in the wild)
  • 200 lbs playmates who might accidentally squash you like an insect when you are barely able to walk.
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think the largest con with being raised by elephants is the very big chance of being squished, accidently. Especially as elephants do actually sleep lying down and have been known to kick their feet when dreaming. An accidental kick to a baby/toddler would probably be enough to cause permanent damage if not death. And you don't want to be a little sleepy toddler when mama elephant is trying to get up in the morning! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ I just see a lot of human nature in elephants and predatory nature in lions. Sure, some lionesses have adopted babies other than their own kind, so what? That bond could easily be broken by the lioness itself just out of hunger. And adoption of prey by a predator species is super rare. Most predators will kill baby animals if they can get past the defense of the mom or the herd. And sure lionesses are intelligent, I am not saying they aren't. I just think that a human baby being raised by lions is less likely because I think that a lioness would see the baby as being an easy meal. $\endgroup$
    – Caters
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 4:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Caters Weird. I see a lot of predatory nature in humans...This situation is going to be rare and weird no matter what--so anything out there, even if it is unusual, is going to be fair game as an example. You think that a lioness would see the baby as being an easy meal, but there's evidence that doesn't always happen, and that even with prey, there's been more than one incident where a lioness has protected a juvenile prey species. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 5:57

I think one of the biggest barriers to being raised by elephants, unless you imbue your elephants with some kind of greater intelligence, is the diet. Humans can't survive on grasses, small plants, bushes, twigs, tree bark, and roots. Fruit, maybe, but the likelihood is that the baby would die before the elephants figure out to only offer it fruit. If the elephant could manage to hold the baby up to nurse until it was old enough to feed itself there might be a chance of survival, and if the elephant continued to nurse the child until it was able to find its own protein, it might escape most of the crippling effects of various nutritional deficiencies. Still, not at all likely.

Especially when you consider the fact that so many children die of malnutrition even when being cared for by members of their own species. Add in the fact that no medical care would be available, and no shelter from the elements.

If the child were basically old enough to feed itself, but just needed protection, you might have one or more of the elephants be escapees from a village, and therefore trained, at one time, to follow a human's commands. If the child (who had been raised in that culture) were to command the elephant to carry and/or protect it, that might work. And a child raised in such a way might learn to eat bugs and to forage for whatever food is available, retreating to "mama" elephant's back when there is danger.


Only after it's been weaned. But by then it would be considered a toddler, so, no.

Simple geometry, a baby can't stand upright. When crawling, its maximum vertical reach is about 40-45 cm. A newborn elephant calf, stands around 85 cm. Herbivores suckle standing.

  • $\begingroup$ Very good point. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 1:14

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