Boy, 3, Believed to Have Been Mauled to Death by Dogs After Wandering Off Alone

A 3-year-old boy is believed to have been mauled to death by dogs in Australia's Northern Territory after wandering off alone on New Year's Eve.

Northern Territory (NT) Police were contacted about a missing boy and launched a search-and-rescue operation in an area southwest of Alice Springs. The boy was found alive but with significant injuries and he died shortly after at a local health clinic.

Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Sachin Sharma said that while investigations are ongoing, the boy's injuries were consistent with an animal attack. He said that while foul play has not been ruled out, it appears dogs were involved in the boy's death. They believe the boy wandered off alone and was attacked during the night.

"A pathology investigation has determined at this stage that there is attack consistent with animal attack," ABC News quoted him as saying. "The investigation will continue, but at this stage the investigation and the evidence is pointing in that direction."

According to the Australian Associated Press, Sharma told reporters two dogs are being held and will undergo forensic examination. These animals are known as "camp dogs," which are semi-domesticated animals living in the Hermannsburg community.

Hermannsburg is an Aboriginal settlement about 80 miles west of Alice Springs. It has a population of just over 600.

Sharma also said counselors had been sent to the community to help them. "It's that sense of loss," ABC News quoted him as saying. "It's horrible, it's horrific. We are now preparing a report for the coroner and the cause of death for this little child will be determined by the coroner's office."

In a statement on January 1, Kirsten Engels, acting commander of the Northern Territory Police said: "We request that the family's privacy is respected at this time and offer our sincere condolences for their loss."

NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services told Newsweek they will not be releasing the identity of the child.

A report by the Australian government published in 2017 found that between 2013 and 2014, almost 4,000 people were hospitalized as a result of dog bites in the country. Children aged between 0 and 4 years old had the highest rates of injury, with 26.5 cases per 100,000. In total, 689 children aged between 0 and 9 were hospitalized for dog bites during the study period, 405 of which were aged 4 years old or under.

In the U.S. almost 5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Research published in 2019 found the breeds responsible for most bites are pit bulls and mixed breeds, with bites from these being more frequent and severe than other types.

This article has been updated to include more information from NT Police Fire and Emergency Services.

dog attack
Stock image of a dog baring its teeth. A 3-year-old boy in Australia is believed to have been killed by dogs after wandering off alone. Getty Images