A young man who spent the past 12 years in the Siberian wilderness has appeared before the Russian public – and then disappeared – alarming local officials and gaining media attention as the "Siberian Mowgli."

Agence France-Presse reports that locals near the resort area of Belokurikha found the man, whose parents decided to leave society and live in the forest when he was about four years old. His parents left their family hut in May and did not return, and when summer ended the young man asked a nearby village for help.

A local woman brought him to authorities because she was concerned that he might need help through the winter. But he eventually disappeared back into the forest.

Roman Fomin, a local prosecutor, told the AFP that the young man looked healthy and normal but spoke slowly because he did not communicate often.

His "Siberian Mowgli" nickname refers to the feral child character Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book."

Though not a feral child by definition, the boy's hidden upbringing echoes a mystery that has surrounded feral children ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when thinkers turned their attention to the development of language.

In 1800, villagers in southern France captured an apparently abandoned child who had been living alone in the forest.

The so-called Wild Boy of Aveyron was brought to Paris, where a medical student named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard took great interest in studying the child, whom he named Victor.

Victor presented the perfect opportunity to test a major question of the time: How was man different from beast? Itard's goal was to teach Victor to speak, although he only managed to teach him to read and speak a few words.

Other feral children fared better in their assimilation. The "Wild Girl of Champagne," discovered in France in 1731, eventually learned to speak and eventually became a nun.

Children raised by animals often feature in mythology – Romulus and Remus, for example, were said to have been brought up by wolves. In reality, many children isolated from society are abandoned or abused by their parents because of perceived mental disabilities.

In the 1970s, California officials discovered the shocking tale of "Genie," a 13-year-old girl who spent most of her life tied up and locked in a room by her father. Her father said she was mentally disabled, and he hid her away from the rest of the world, beating her if she made noises and feeding her mainly infant food. Although she acquired basic language skills, some experts speculate that she missed out on a critical period of language development during her years of abuse and isolation.

How might Siberian locals react to the well being of their own "wild child"?

"He was just afraid that he won't survive the winter without his parents," Mr. Fomin told the AFP. "But maybe they have already come back."