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Coroner: Dingo Snatched, Killed Infant Azaria

A female dingo, Queensland, Australia. Research shows that although dingos are no longer domesticated, they still retain the ability to read human gestures. (Image credit: Bradley Smith)

Ending a 32-year mystery over the death of an infant in the Australian outback, a court announced today (June 12) a dingo was responsible for the death of baby Azaria Chamberlain, according to news reports.

Upon hearing the verdict, Azaria's parents Michael Chamberlain and Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton (who was jailed for three years before being cleared in her daughter's death) hugged; their son, Aidan, hugged his mom, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Azaria reportedly went missing on Aug. 17, 1980, from a tent in a camping ground near the tourist attraction Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock); her body has not been recovered. Though many argued over how Azaria died, the Aboriginal people there, called Pitjantjatjara, said a dingo was to blame, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

The deputy coroner Elizabeth Morris of the Darwin Magistrates Court agreed with the Pitjantjatjara when she handed down her official judgment, saying ''Dr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, Aidan and your extended families, please accept my sincere sympathy over the death of your special and loved daughter and sister, Azaria,'' according to the Herald. (Aidan was 6 when his sister went missing.)

The verdict comes after the coroner considered new evidence, primarily accounts of attacks on children by dingoes and hybrid dingoes, including a lethal attack on a 9-year-old boy on Queensland's Fraser Island in 2001, according to SMH.

''No longer will Australians be able to say dingoes are not dangerous and will not attack unless provoked ... We love this beautiful country but it is dangerous,'' SMH reported Lindy saying.

Dingoes were semidomesticated village dogs at one point in Southeast Asia. But about 4,000 years ago, they got loose in Australia, where their behavior reverted to that of their ancestor, the wolf. They howl, live in packs, and, in many cases, fear humans. The medium-size dogs can weigh between 29 and 53 pounds (13 adn 24 kilograms), with males larger than females.

They are most active at dawn and dusk, when their prey are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; dingoes primarily eat wallaby and kangaroo, but also are known to prey on rabbits, possums, gliders, rats and mice. Thought they don't usually go after domestic livestock, they have been blamed for attacks on livestock by feral dogs or dog-dingo hybrids, according to Australia Zoo.

Live Science Staff
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