A boy aged three who survived 21 days and nights in the hot and hazardous South African bush has told his ecstatic mother that he ate "flowers" to stay alive and hid under bushes at night.
Michael Raadt and his cousin Thabiso Paint, two, wandered off while playing on the Luckhoff farm where they live on 10 December. Thabiso was found naked and scratched near the fast-flowing Orange river three days later.
Aside from another track of tiny footprints there was no sign of Michael. He was long-feared dead – presumed to have drowned – before he was found on Monday 19 miles from his Free State farm home, crawling towards a remote dam in search of water, by Johan Lombaard, a neighbouring farmer.
Free State province has been experiencing sweltering summer days with temperatures of up to 100F (38C). Although it is mostly farmland, the Luckhoff terrain is vast and isolated, thorny and rocky, with snakes and predators including leopards.
The "flowers" the boy said he ate to survive were probably berries and pods.
Mina Raadt, Michael's mother, told the Afrikaans newspaper Volksblad that she had not slept since her son disappeared, but had spent the time praying or looking for him with the police, who used tracker dogs and helicopters in their search. "I thought maybe they would find his body somewhere. I didn't believe that he was still alive. He was gone for too long," she said.
At the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein, Michael was found to be covered in scabs, dehydrated and suffering from mild pneumonia, although the latter is fairly common among poor, malnourished children.
Mr Lombaard was on his motorcycle checking irrigation equipment on his farm when he found the boy, wearing only a T-shirt and lying on his side near the dam. "I walked closer to see whether he was still alive. I could see he was breathing and told him he had to wait there, I was going to fetch the bakkie [van]," he said.
"He just blinked his eyes. If the tough little tyke had walked around in the searing hot sun for another day or two, he wouldn't have made it."
Captain Ernest Mayiki, a police spokesman, said officers were delighted by the boy's discovery, but would continue investigating the case. They remained mystified as to how Michael "survived such tough conditions alone for so long".Reuse content