The real life Mowgli: Schoolboy, eight, forms special relationship with colony of alpine marmots
They are notoriously shy around humans, beating their tails and chattering their teeth to try to warn us off before emitting loud whistles to tell other members of their colony to flee.
But when these alpine marmots see Matteo Walch, they scuttle to his side and show him nothing but affection.
The eight-year-old had built up a remarkable relationship with the creatures since first being taken to see them by his nature-loving family four years ago.
Special bond: Matteo Walch has struck up an unlikely friendship with a group of marmots in the Austrian Alps
The family return to visit the colony in Groslocker in the Austrian Alps for two weeks every year.
Matteo’s father Michaela, said: “Their friendship has lasted for more than four years now.
“He loves those animals and they are not at all afraid of Matteo because he has a feeling towards them and they understand that.
‘We go there every year now for two weeks – it’s amazing to watch the connection between a boy and his animal friends.’
Marmots stand at around 18cm tall and reach up to 50cm in length.
Bizarrely, the animals are heavier in the autumn, when they can weigh up to 8kg, in comparison to 3kg in the spring months.
Furry friends; The schoolboy from Innsbruck first met the clan of marmots four years ago on a family holiday and has returned every year since
Unlikely pair: The normally shy marmots show Matteo nothing but affection when he visits them at Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria
Michaela, a schoolteacher from Innsbruck, Austria, has uniquely captured the unique bond between Matteo and his marmot friends throughout the past four years.
He said: “I could spend hours watching animals – its gives me a connection with nature and its life forms.
“It’sgreat that I have been able to document the marmot’s natural behaviour around Matteo without making them afraid of me and my equipment.
“Iwanted to capture the animals exactly the way I see them – the way theybehave among each other, in harmony with their surroundings.”
A member of the clan: The marmots gather around Matteo when he arrives and lets him feed them and play with them despite normally running away from humans
Matteo and his family spend two weeks every year in the Alps visiting his marmot friends
Nose to nose: A marmot greets eight-year-old Matteo on the slopes of the Austrian Alps
It is clear from the pictures that Matteo and the marmots are totally comfortable in each other’s company.
Michaela, 46, said: “The picture of a curious animal approaching me is a thousand times more beautiful than the picture of any animal looking at me in fear before it takes flight.
“This is how I try to picture the proudest, more beautiful and also the funniest moments, giving others the opportunity to enjoy the miraculous world of animals.’
Jealous: One marmot is so keen to get his attention that it has climbed up into Matteo”s lap for a cuddle