By ANDREW OSBORN in Moscow
A Mowgli-like wild boy who appears 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 was discovered three weeks ago by social workers who wondered why the seven-year-old had not enrolled at his local school in the beautiful Siberian region of Altai.
Deprived of 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.
In an extraordinary case of life imitating art, 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 existence had been forgotten.
His mother left home when he was 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.
Incredibly, 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 lonely outpost's few other inhabitants.
Instead, Andrei reportedly forged a close bond with the only other living thing around, the family guard dog, which somehow helped the young baby survive and grow up.
Doctors say that Andrei was born with speech and hearing problems anyway but that his wayward parents made no effort with him for the short time that they hung around.
Dubbed a 'dog boy' by some in the Russian media, he has now been moved to a shelter for orphans in a local town where he is being encouraged to mix with other children.
When he first arrived, the shelter staff told 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 carrying out a series of tests on Andrei to ascertain whether he can be taught normal human behaviour.
If the answer is yes he will be transferred to a normal children's home; otherwise he will be dispatched to a specialised boarding school.
Police have initiated a search for his parents, who are likely to face various charges of neglect and endangerment if and when they are found.
Andrei Tolstyk's is not the first case of 'a feral child' in Russia. In 1998 police near Moscow 'rescued' Ivan Mishukov, then six years old, from the clutches of a pack of wild dogs he had lived with for the last two years.
Mishukov 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 ill-wishers, and made him their pack leader. The police tried to rescue him three times but each time he was protected by the dogs.
They eventually managed to separate the boy from the dogs by leaving bait for the pack in a restaurant kitchen.
Mishukov, who could speak before he went wild, has been successfully reintegrated into society though is said to still dream of dogs.