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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK


From monkey boy to choir boy

John still seems able to communicate with monkeys

An orphan boy reared by apes in the African jungle has arrived in Britain to sing with a children's choir.

John Ssabunnya, aged 14, was abandoned as a two-year-old in the dense jungle of Uganda to what seemed certain death.

The BBC's Sue Nelson:"John was fed and sheltered by monkeys"
But a colony of African Green monkeys came across him and adopted the real-life Tarzan as one of their own.

He learnt their mannerisms, became adept at climbing trees and lived on a diet of fruit, nuts and berries for the next three years.

[ image: Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan as Tarzan and Jane]
Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan as Tarzan and Jane
In 1991 a tribeswoman saw him scavenging for food with the chimps and reported it to the people in her village.

The naked boy was caught and taken to the Kamuzinda Christian Orphanage, 100 miles from the Ugandan capital Kampala, where he lived with the family of the orphanage manager.

For the last eight years, he has been taught to speak, has learned human ways - and as he began to utter his first words, it was discovered he had a fine singing voice.

He has now joined the 20-strong Pearl of Africa children's choir, which has arrived in Britain for a three-week tour.

John's remarkable story features in a Living Proof television documentary to be screened on BBC One on 13 October.

The programme makers and a leading anthropologist returned with John to a monkey troop to see how he would behave.

The experts say it is the most convincing recorded case of a child being raised by wild animals.

Mother murdered

When villagers first found the boy and attempted to take him away, the terrified youngster, hurled sticks at them and hid up a tree.

His monkey guardians put up a ferocious fight to prevent the tribesmen taking him away, believing they were protecting one of their own.

John was abandoned when his mother was murdered in 1988. It is believed his father died in the civil unrest in Uganda in the early 90s.

A villager identified the monkey-boy as John Ssabunnya, who disappeared at the age of three.

He remains fiercely protective of monkeys and still seems able to communicate with them.

Monkeys saved his life

Dentist Hillary Cook, a 56-year-old mother of five from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, helped organise the singing tour. She met John after travelling to Uganda to offer dental treatment to some of the world's poorest people.

"He doesn't look any different to any of the other children in the choir, but his is a truly remarkable story. If it hadn't been for the monkey's intervention he would certainly be dead.

"He's a shy boy and still speaks slowly but when he sings he has the most wonderful voice."

The choir, which will perform in churches in Merseyside, Glasgow, Sheffield, London and Wales.

John's amazing story will be told on Living Proof, on Wednesday 13 October on BBC One at 8pm.

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