By Hayley Pugh
A little boy who struck up an extraordinary bond with a colony of Alpine marmots is still best of friends with the usually shy creatures – as this remarkable footage shows.
Matteo Walch has travelled to Grossglockner in the Austrian Alps on a regular basis after first forming a friendship with the wild marmots when he was just three-years-old.
Over the years Matteo, now 15, has been photographed by his mum, Michaela, 54, as he feeds, plays with and cuddles the marmots in their natural habitat.
And despite his appearance changing as he gets older, the clever creatures always seem to recognise him.
Normally, when seeing an intruder, a marmot will become defensive and try to warn them off by beating their tail and chattering their teeth.
They will then emit a series of loud whistles to members of their colony to encourage them to run for cover.
But, when spotting Matteo, the marmots leap to his side in joy and show him nothing but affection on his return.
As this most-recent footage shows, his bond with the marmots is more than just a fleeting friendship – despite it being more than a decade since their first meeting.
Matteo’s mum, a school teacher from Innsbruck, Austria, said: “Whenever we visit they come immediately to him. It’s wonderful to watch.
“He is quite different from the other children in that he moves quite slowly and is patient with them. He is always very calm and they seem to like that.
“I think because he was so young when they first met and they were the first wild animals he saw in real life, they will always have a special place for him.
“Even as he gets older he never gets bored of visiting, he is always asking me when we can go and see them again.
“They run to other people for food but they soon come back to Matteo and even when he has no food they just like being around him.
“They have a really special connection.”