This is how the story runs. A boy aged around 10 was found in the midst of a herd of gazelles in the Syrian desert, and was only caught with the help of an Iraqi army jeep, because he could run at speeds of up to 50 kph. Although terribly thin, he was said to have been extremely fit and strong, with muscles of steel. He was captured and bound hand and foot.
Photographs of the Syrian Gazelle-boy
One correspondent remembers a front-page picture (UK newspapers) of the the Syrian Gazelle-Boy, bound and scowling — and both he and Armen agree that is not the same photo (or even the same boy) as the one that was reproduced in Life and in the Sunday Express, see right. Indeed, another correspondent points out that the boy in this picture has a blatently obvious "farmers' tan": that is, the tan you acquire while wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt outside. Furthermore, the hair is obviously cropped over the eyes.
A third correspondent, J Rocca, writes in with these memories of the Syrian Gazelle-boy:
I lived in Damascus in the early 50's. At that time I was teaching at Damascus College and the USIS. In the main Market, there was an extremely thin, wiry, tall boy who was called the "gazelle boy". I was told that he was found in the desert running with the gazelles and had been captured by hunters in a jeep… at first the Syrian Authorities wanted to study him and refused to let American doctors or French doctors take him for study. When the funds weren't forthcoming, the young man was left to live in the streets.
He supported himself living in the "Souk" near Hamidiyee taking handouts.. and people would give him about 25 cents (equivalent) to run alongside a taxi. I saw this several times… about 1952-54.
I remember the Gazelle Boy had long stringy dirty hair and clothes that were blacken with age and grime… he had a pointed face… really animal like… but one did not feel threatened by him.
I used to take him food when I went to the Souk (Hamadieyah Market) a very long straight street ending in a Mosque (now) but had been a church in the second and third century.
Armen says the Syrian Gazelle-Boy was still alive in 1955, when he (the boy) made an attempt to escape from whichever unpleasant state institution he was incarcerated in. I won't offend your sensibilities by telling you what they did to him to stop him escaping again.
Hoax by bored reporters?
Possibly because of the false photograph, there is a rumour that the Syrian Gazelle-boy story was a hoax perpetrated by bored news reporters stuck in the middle of a desert. However, Jean-Claude Armen (author of Gazelle Boy, the book about the Saharan gazelle-boy who Armen found in 1960) believed the story.
Different versions of the story
The Life Magazine story of 9 September 1946 agrees pretty much with the other reports. It states that the previous month, a group of hunters found a boy running wild with a herd of gazelles in the Syrian steppes. About 14 years old at the time of discovery, he was believed to have been abandoned as a baby. He was taken to an asylum for the insane.
Another version of the story of the Syrian Gazelle-Boy is told by Amir Lawrence al Sha'alan, chief of the Ruweili tribe, who says he found the boy while out hunting in the desert straddling Transjordan, Syria and Iraq. His story, reported in the Sunday Express, puts the boy's speed at 50 mph, not 50 kph.
The Syrian Gazelle Boy
50 kph sprinter