MOSCOW: A four-year-old girl was recovering in hospital Wednesday after being lost for nearly two weeks in a bear-infested forest in the Russian far north with only her puppy to defend her.
Karina Chikitova was found emaciated but alive at the weekend, having survived 11 days in the Siberian wilderness in freezing night-time temperatures with only berries to sustain her in what rescuers said was nothing short of a miracle.
The little girl had left her tiny village in the Sakha republic with her dog on July 29 to go and stay with her father who lived in a neighbouring hamlet.
But her father had gone to fight a wildfire and the girl apparently set off by herself into the forest to find him.
With no mobile phone signal in the sparsely populated region where native Yakut people live from hunting and reindeer herding, her mother only realised after four days that her daughter had set off on her own into the dense forest.
Despite a massive search, Karina was still not found for over a week, the breakthrough only coming when her puppy traipsed back to the hamlet -- in which only eight people live -- allowing rescuers to send search dogs on the puppy's trail.
"We were sure that the puppy was next to the little girl all this time, warming her at night and scaring away wild animals," rescuer Afanasiy Nikolayev told the Zvezda TV channel.
When the dog came back "we thought this is it" for Karina, as temperatures in the area had already dropped below freezing at night.
A report on the channel said the search party kept to creeks and meadows, going into the forest only in the presence of special forces because there are so many bears in the area.
The search team came across Karina's footprints two days later and found her lying in tall grass about six kilometres (four miles) north of her village, shaken but alive.
By then she had lost her shoes and was walking barefoot and had lost a considerable amount of weight.
Television pictures showed the wide-eyed girl in a T-shirt and leggings just after she had been found gulping water before being carried onto a helicopter.
She said she ate berries and drank water from the river to survive.
The Sakha region in northeastern Russia is one of the country's most remote, known for its icy rivers, permafrost, and rich wildlife that includes reindeer and brown bears.
Sakha governor's office said Karina was in the main regional hospital in the city of Yakutsk and is recovering well.