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Meet the Marmot Whisperer, an 8-year-old Austrian boy

Alaska Dispatch

Marmots are one of Alaska’s quintessential rodents – so much so that the stout, alpine critters are even celebrated with an official statewide Marmot Day. But the rodents are usually skittish around human beings. They often scowl, scold wildly and lumber out of sight at the first glimpse of people. In the Austrian Alps, however, one boy has skirted the normal conventions and has been adopted by a marmot clan, the U.K.'s Daily Mail reports.

Eight-year-old Matteo Walch first met his marmot family four years ago during a family vacation. Every year since, the family has returned to visit the colony in Groslocker in the Austrian Alps for two weeks, and the kinship between Matteo and the marmots has grown.

His mother 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.”

Photos of Matteo show marmots huddled around him, perching on his legs, and nuzzling nose-to-nose. It all comes naturally to Matteo. “I could spend hours watching animals -- it gives me a connection with nature and its life forms.” He told the Daily Mail.

See the extraordinary (and rather adorable) photos, here.