Tony Halpin in Moscow and Jenny Booth
A feral girl who has spent her entire life shut up in a flat in the company of cats and dogs has been taken into care by police in Siberia.
The child, 5, was unable to speak and acted like a dog when officers discovered her locked in a squalid, unheated flat in the city of Chita.
â€œFor five years, the girl was â€™brought upâ€™ by several dogs and cats and had never been outside,â€ police said in a statement.
â€œThe unwashed girl was dressed in filthy clothes, had the clear attributes of an animal and jumped at people.â€
Police said that the girl had had a lack of contact with humans, despite sharing the three-room flat with her father, grandmother, grandfather and other relatives, the Ria-Novosti news agency reported.
The girl, known as Natasha, is now being monitored by psychologists in an orphanage. She has the appearance of a two-year-old, although police have established that her real age is 5.
The child refuses to eat with a spoon, insisting on lapping up her food straight from the plate, and has taken on many other behaviours of the animals with which she lived, police said.
â€œWhen carers leave the room, the girl jumps at the door and barks,â€ the police said.
Her mother was taken in for questioning when she called at a police station after her daughter was taken away. Her father has not yet been found.
Feral children, the stuff of folklore all over the world, usually exhibit the behaviour of the animals with whom they have had closest contact.
The condition is known as the Mowgli Syndrome, after the fictional child from Rudyard Kiplingâ€™s The Jungle Book who was raised by wolves.
Such children have usually built strong ties with the animals with whom they lived and find the transition to normal human contact traumatic.
The girl could understand Russian but could not speak it and tried to communicate through barking instead. She was more comfortable with her animal companions than with her relatives.
She is being given medical and psychiatric treatment.
Police are treating the case as a criminal investigation into alleged child abuse.