Woman Raised by Monkeys: Vanessa James on her mother’s incredible upbringing

Marina Chapman claims she was kidnapped from her garden in Colombia as a child and then dumped in a jungle, where she was raised by monkeys. Her daughter Vanessa helps tell the story as part of a new National Geographic show

Marina Chapman is a Bradford housewife with an incredible story. She claims she was kidnapped aged five and raised by monkeys for five years, until she was taken by hunters and sold to a brothel. As part of a new National Geographic documentary Woman Raised by Monkeys (9pm, December 12) she will travel back to South America in an attempt to uncover her mysterious past. Her daughter Vanessa James helps her tell her story:


You are the co author of your mum’s story The Girl with No Name: The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys and in your new National Geographic show you go back to Colombia with your mum to trace your family tree (pardon the pun). What did you find?

We were able to put all the little bits that mum told us together. About what the monkeys did. We collected all her different memories and we went to Columbia and started speaking to all these different people, and it all started coming together. We found out that she lived with white faced capuchin monkeys, common to the region, which makes perfect sense with the rest of the story.

Can she still communicate with monkeys?

Like a lot of people, if they learnt Italian between the ages of five and 10, they forget. She tries. We went to monkey world and she tried coming out with lots of different sounds because she wanted to communicate with them again, but sounds are forgotten. So, sadly not. She does feed them though, we went to Monkey World and she stuffed nuts and berries into every pocket she had, even though all the signs say please don’t feed the monkeys. She also tried climbing the security fence and had security guard chasing after her, because she wanted to get in with the monkeys.

How has your mum’s upbringing affected the way you grew up?

It never felt different to anyone else as it was all I knew, it felt completely normal. But looking back I can see that some things were a little bit unusual. I always thought other mums were really boring, really strict and didn’t really do much. She was really adventurous, we’d climb trees and we’d play with animals all the time… even now when my niece throws a twig at her she has the reaction of a monkey.

So you’ve benefitted?

Yes. We never grew up with any fear or shame, because she’d just get that out of us. If we were bleeding she’d just say “ah well,” and see the positive side. It’s really great for perspective.

What do your friends think of it all?

They love her, but a lot of them were sceptical. It is a hard thing to believe when you first hear it.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t bring it up in a professional situation?

Generally, I wouldn’t bring it up because they’d think I was ridiculous, and I don’t blame them.

What do you say to the sceptics?

My dad’s a scientist, so he’s one of the biggest sceptics of all. My mum can’t read or write very well, but she’s got so much information on the monkeys. One of the primatologists says on the documentary: “unless you’d studied for years you wouldn’t know all this”. I remember when I was around 10-years-old my mum telling me about monkeys using tools and how they’d crack open nuts with them. I used to love hearing about them. At that time this hadn’t really been reported and there wasn’t any internet. I remember five years later I came home from school and it was on Newsround. They said “breaking news, primatologists have just discovered that these really cool monkeys are using tools like this”. It was brand new information and got loads of press. Me and my sister were like: “we knew that!”

Does your mum have any health side-effects from living in the jungle and eating a monkey’s diet for all those years?

She’s suffered from malnutrition and she’s absolutely tiny; she’s four foot something. But she’s incredibly strong. She’s never been to the gym but she’s got quads and legs of steel. We also found out that she’s picked up a disease from the jungle that affects your heart. It was terrifying when we found out, but it was also an indication that she had been in the jungle. She had lots of bad teeth, which she got redone, as she never brushed her teeth.


Watch Woman Raised by Monkeys at 9pm, December 12 on National Geographic Channel