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Bush tracker who searched for AJ Elfalak in Putty, NSW, shares how the toddler survived

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Pictured: AJ Elfalak, three years old

A bush tracker who joined the search for an autistic toddler after mysteriously disappearing into the wilderness for three days believes the three-year-old survived by hiding in caves and a wombat burrow.

Police and rescue teams went into a frenzy when Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak disappeared without a trace from his home in Putty, 150 km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley, just after 11 a.m. on September 3.

Helicopters, dog brigades, SES, national fire brigades and hundreds of volunteers scoured the forest to find the little boy – before being miraculously found 72 hours later alive in a creek just 200 meters from home.

AJ was shivering, hungry, dehydrated and had a bad diaper rash, but was otherwise in a good mood – leading to questions about how a special needs toddler managed to survive three cold nights alone in the bush.

Family and friends repeatedly claimed that AJ was most likely abducted — “there is no reasonable explanation other than a kidnapping,” the boy’s godfather, Alan Hashem, told reporters at the time.

His distraught mother Kelly also said, “He holds my hand all day, all night. We are together all the time. I think he was taken. If he was around here, I would have found him long ago.’

But survival expert Jake Cassar, who helped with the search, says he saw tracks around the mouth of a wombat hole in the area where the cub was found.

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar, who says he found AJ's tracks in a cave and wombat hole

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar, who says he found AJ’s tracks in a cave and wombat hole

Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ's mother Kelly Elfalak during the search for her son

Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ’s mother Kelly Elfalak during the search for her son

“It was a small track, but it’s very likely it was his,” said the 45-year-old. News Corp.

He also said the property was littered with caves, including one that looked like someone had stayed in it.

“It’s hard to tell because it’s really soft sand, but it looked like the sand had been dragged out, and you can see something that looked like knee spurs and maybe some dust spots in the sand as well,” he explained.

He said they were tracks leading to a wombat hole that he believes were likely left by AJ.

Hashem said images from CCTV cameras installed on a tree overlooking the driveway leading to the property had been cut when the boy went missing, but others claimed the cameras had been damaged before the boy disappeared.

“How did he leave?” he asked. “Has something sinister happened?”

Pictured: Moments after AJ was found

Pictured: AJ drinking from a creek

The spot where AJ was found was only 500 meters from his childhood home and was extensively reconnoitred in the days when he was missing. Pictured: Moments after he was found

AJ Elfalak (pictured) went missing on September 3 and was found three days later, covered in cuts and bruises

AJ Elfalak (pictured) went missing on September 3 and was found three days later, covered in cuts and bruises

Chief Inspector Tracy Chapman said on Monday: “I don’t understand what happened to some of the footage, but it’s still part of our investigation later on.”

AJ’s father Anthony Elfalak told reporters 48 hours after his son went missing that “little boys don’t just get up and disappear.”

But Mr Cassar said AJ’s injuries were consistent with the theory that he was lost in the bush for three days.

“There’s no doubt he’s been out in the bush the whole time,” he said. “He had scratches that were three days old, scratches that looked like two days old.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the bush, often for weeks, and I know what someone looks like when they’ve been in the bush for a long time.”

Greg Chalmers, the SES volunteer who first saw the boy, also said AJ was shivering as if he had been cold for a long time.

This aerial view shows the distance between AJ's house and the area where he was found - complete with the dense bushland and dangerously steep terrain in between

This aerial view shows the distance between AJ’s house and the area where he was found – complete with the dense bushland and dangerously steep terrain in between

Once in an ambulance, paramedics said he’d devoured an entire pizza and a banana and “gulped down” two bottles of water — typical traits of someone who hadn’t eaten for days.

“He was starving… it all equates to being in the bush the whole time,” said a paramedic.

Police have also suggested that AJ’s autism likely helped him maintain a calm frame of mind.

“The reality is he didn’t know he was lost…so he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t panicking,” said one researcher.

The celebrations were underway from about 1pm on Monday - an hour after word was spread that AJ had been found alive

The celebrations were underway from about 1pm on Monday – an hour after word was spread that AJ had been found alive

“The reality is he didn’t know he was lost…so he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t panicking,” said one researcher.

The Child Mind Institute says that children with autism often have “a weaker sense of danger” than others and like to explore.

They are also more likely to “stray” or try to remove themselves from overwhelming sensory experiences.

When AJ was taken from the river, his mother sobbed uncontrollably and his grandmother fell to her knees, thanking the government for the search efforts.

Professional tracker called in to help determine how little AJ ended up in the bush

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar

Pictured: Bush tracker Jake Cassar

AJ Elfalak’s family relies on the opinion of a professional bush tracker to help them understand how the toddler spent three nights alone in the unforgiving terrain behind their home.

Jake Cassar has been at the family home in Putty, 150km northwest of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Valley since Saturday, and has volunteered his expertise to track down AJ.

He told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday that he could not rule out the possibility that the three-year-old was kidnapped and that his job was to consider all possible scenarios.

“I’m here to keep an open mind,” he said.

“The way I see it, if you have two feet and a heartbeat, anything is possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 97-year-old woman or a three-year-old boy.’

Cassar wondered if AJ had indeed traveled farther from home and somehow returned to where he was found, just 500 meters from his childhood home and extensively searched in the days he was missing.

The professional tracker has remained close to the family since his arrival and was spotted in khaki clothing on Tuesday to enter the ditch where AJ was spotted.

He said he planned to continue his search of the area to find possible paths AJ might have taken.

Cassar told the Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday that he could not rule out the possibility that the three-year-old was kidnapped and that it was his job to consider all possible scenarios.

Cassar told the Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday that he could not rule out the possibility that the three-year-old was kidnapped and that it was his job to consider all possible scenarios. “I’m here to keep an open mind,” he said. Mr Cassar (right) is pictured with AJ’s mother Kelly

The entrance to the creek is so steep that even most adults would struggle to clamber down.

Photos taken by Daily Mail Australia at the base illustrate how rocky and unstable the terrain is.

AJ was found sitting in a shallow, muddy creek at the base of what appeared to be a barely visible trail, but the question remains how he got to such a steep trail safely.

Mr Cassar explained that it was quite possible that, even with hundreds of volunteers, little AJ in the bush went undetected.

He said search groups tended to stay in straight lines and follow an almost perfect trajectory from point A to point B, while someone who is lost intuitively does the opposite.

“When we’re lost, we almost always walk on a slight curve to the right or left, so it’s easy to travel in directions that searchers might overlook,” Mr Cassar said.

He hoped to give the family some more advice on whether AJ probably walked around alone or was kidnapped, which the family initially believed.

A relative who said he lived in the Elfalaks’ home jumped in to say that the family was conducting “their own investigation.”

“We’d like to think the police are still investigating, but they aren’t,” the man said.

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