Tokyo: Japanese rescuers expanded the search for a seven-year-old boy missing for three days after his parents left him in a mountain forest inhabited by bears as punishment in a case that has infuriated public opinion.

The parents originally told police the boy got lost on Saturday while they were hiking to gather wild vegetables but later admitted they had left him in the forest to punish him.

The boy, Yamato Tanooka, went missing in mountains on the northern main island of Hokkaido inhabited by wild bears. Yamato, his older sister, mother and father came to a park near the forest on Saturday, but the parents became angry as the boy threw stones at cars and people.

On the way back home, they made Yamato get out of the car and left him alone in the forest, driving the car about 500 metres away. “They said they went back to the site immediately but the boy was no longer there,” a local police spokesman said.

Some 180 rescuers and police officers widened the search area yesterday. “I feel very sorry for my child,” the father said. “I am so sorry for causing trouble for many people.”