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 built up a remarkable relationship with the creatures since first being taken to see them by his nature-loving family four years ago.
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.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 - it gives me a connection with nature and its life forms.
‘It’s great that I have been able to document the marmot’s natural behaviour around Matteo without making them afraid of me and my equipment.
‘I wanted to capture the animals exactly the way I see them - the way they behave among each other, in harmony with their surroundings.’
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.’