‘Jungle Woman’ Stirs International Media Imagination Again

Rocham Phoeung, who was dub­bed “Jungle Woman” by the international media after she was found foraging alone in a Ratan­akkiri province forest in 2007, has once again gripped the imagination of the international media after she was reported missing last week by her as­sumed father.

This time, the story among num­erous international media outlets is that “Jungle Woman” has chosen to “return to the jungle.”

Sal Lou, who believes that Ms Phoeung is his daughter who went missing in 1989 at the age of 8, said yesterday that the young woman disappeared late last Tuesday when she went to a water well 100 meters from his house to wash.

Until last week Ms Phoeung, who had obvious mental health problems and was unable to speak, had lived with Mr Lou’s family at their home in O’Yadaw town where she spent most of her days chained to the support beam of his house.

“I don’t know where she is; she went back to the forest,” Mr Lou said.

Dozens of international news me­dia, including news channels Fox News and Sky News, and newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph from the UK and the US New York Daily News, have used the reported disappearance to breathe new life into Ms Phoeung’s story.

The Daily Telegraph pronounced that the story about “jungle girl has gripped Cambodia, where she is also known as the ‘half-animal girl’ be­cause of her hunched appearance and the fact she makes animal noises rather than speaking.”

The Daily Telegraph added that, “attempts to reintegrate [Ms Phoe­ung] have failed. She has not learnt either of the local languages…prefers to crawl rather than walk, refuses to wear clothes and has made several attempts to return to the forest.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said the story of Ms Phoe­ung does not cease to interest international media, as it was “a dramatic story about a human being disconnected from the world.”

For local media in Cambodia, however, there is not much interest in the sad details of Ms Phoeung’s life.

“For people [abroad] this story seems to have become a fairy tale. There seems to be an interest among foreign media professionals and the foreign audience in this story,” Mr Chhean Nariddh said, adding some international media had perhaps sensationalized the story. “If they just reported the facts it’s not so interesting,” he said.

Ethnic Banong villager Ramas Kov found Ms Phoeung in January 2007, while he was gathering wood seven km outside of O’Yadaw town. During an interview in November, Mr Kov denied media reports from 2007 that Ms Phoeung was walking on all fours and animal-like when he first saw her, explaining that she was wearing a shirt and walked upright when he first spotted her in the forest.

Slaiman Hassan, deputy police chief of Lumchor commune, confirmed that Ms Phoeung has been reported missing, adding that police are paying “attention to her disappearance.”

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