A WILD boy who seems to have been raised by a dog since he was three months old has been discovered living in a remote part of Siberia seven years after he was abandoned by his parents.
Andrei Tolstyk, now seven, was found by social workers who wondered why the boy had not enrolled at his local school in the picturesque Siberian region of Altai.
Having been isolated from human contact for so long, Andrei could not talk and had adopted many dog-like traits including walking on all fours, biting people, sniffing his food before he ate it and general feral behaviour.
Andrei, like Rudyard Kipling's fictional Mowgli in The Jungle Book, had spent almost his entire youth in the company of animals. According to the local press, his very existence had been forgotten. His mother left home when he was just three months old, entrusting Andrei's care to his alcoholic, invalid father who also appears to have abandoned the boy soon afterwards and drifted away.
The hamlet of Bespalovskoya, where the family lived, was so sparsely populated and the house so remote that the parents' absence went unnoticed by the few other inhabitants.
Instead, Andrei reportedly forged a close bond with the only other living thing around, the family guard dog, which somehow helped him survive and grow up.
Doctors say Andrei was born with speech and hearing problems but that his wayward parents made no effort to seek medical treatment for him before they left. Andrei has been dubbed the "Dog Boy" by some sections of the Russian media; he has now been moved to a shelter for orphans in a nearby town where he is being encouraged to mix with other children.
When he first arrived at the shelter, staff told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti that he was afraid of people, behaved aggressively and erratically and continued to sniff all his food before eating it. They were, however, able to communicate him using basic sign language.
Two weeks after his arrival they say he began to walk on two legs and has since mastered the art of eating with a spoon, making his own bed and playing with a ball.
The other orphans are reported to be suspicious of the boy they call "wild" but Andrei is said to have struck up a friendship with a little girl with whom he communicates using sign language.
Doctors, paediatricians and psychologists are currently trying to work out whether Andrei can be taught normal human behaviour. If he shows good progress, he will be transferred to another children's home; otherwise he will be dispatched to a specialised boarding school. Police are hunting for his parents, who are likely to face charges of neglect and endangerment.
Andrei Tolstyk's is not the first case of a "feral child" in Russia. As reported in OUR DOGS in 1998, police near Moscow rescued Ivan Mishukov, then aged six, from a pack of wild dogs with which he had lived for two years. Ivan had left the family home when he was four to get away from his mother and her abusive alcoholic boyfriend. He took to begging and won the dogs' trust by offering them scraps of food. In return, they protected him, from the cold and from other humans, and apparently made him their pack leader. Police finally managed to separate the boy from the dogs by leaving bait for the pack in a restaurant kitchen.
Although there have been many well-documented cases of children raised by wild animals –there have, however, been a number of "feral child" hoaxes. The website FeralChildren.com lists some more far-fetched cases - among them are the "The Wild Boy of Burundi", "The Delphos Wolf Girl", and "the Syrian gazelle-boy".