In the original novelsEdit
The two and their son were marooned on the Atlantic coast of Africa by mutineers. His father built a cabin, which he heavily reinforced to keep out attacking animals. When Tarzan was a year old, his mother died, and his father was killed by Kerchak, the violent leader of an ape tribe. This species unknown to science had a language, calling itself the Mangani.
An infant ape had died that morning, and its' mourning mother, Kala, adopted Tarzan as her own. Tarzan became a feral child, speaking no English and unaware of human civilization.
In the Disney franchiseEdit
Like in the literature, they are again marooned on the Atlantic coast of Africa after their boat caught fire and sunk (though it isn't explained how the fire started). They then build a massive tree-house from salvage. They are then found and killed by Sabor the leopard, though Tarzan was missed. Kala later found their bodies along with cat-made paw-prints of (supposedly) their blood: evidence that Sabor had been responsible. Luckily she had found Tarzan and both managed to escape Sabor who was still at the tree-house. Tarzan eventually forgot about them later on in the film until recently. He would also at some point learn that his parent's deaths were all Sabor's doing (though Sabor had also been killed by Tarzan himself earlier in the film).
They are also mentioned in the sequel television-series The Legend of Tarzan.