November 4th, 2012
03:11 PM ET

African painted dogs kill young boy at Pittsburgh Zoo

A group of African painted dogs killed a boy who fell into their exhibit today at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Barbara Baker, the zoo's president, said the child was around 3 years old.

He "fell off an observation deck that's about 14 feet above the exhibit," she said, "and was killed by the dogs."

"Our emergency teams and our Pittsburgh police responded immediately, but there wasn’t anything that could be done," added Baker.

The boy fell into the enclosure at 11:45 a.m., and visitors quickly alerted staff, the zoo said in a statement. A zookeeper moved seven of the 11 dogs out of the exhibit, and a Veterinarian Department member shot darts trying to scare away the remaining dogs.

"Unfortunately, the dogs were in pack mentality and not responding," the zoo said.

Zookeepers, meanwhile, entered the exhibit to try to lure the dogs away, but they could not reach the boy in time. The keepers and Pittsburgh police officers continued efforts, too, to lure away the dogs, and "one aggressive dog was shot and killed by an officer," according to the zoo.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and the associated PPG Aquarium are closed until further notice.

African painted dogs are among the most endangered dog species in the world, with less than 5,000 left in the wild, according to the zoo. The zoo has a breeding program.

Each is about the size of a small German shepherd, Baker said.

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Filed under: Animals • Pennsylvania • U.S.
soundoff (1,798 Responses)
  1. kat

    Lets all stay focused on the main point of this article......the main point is a 3 YEAR OLD CHILD fell into a pit at the zoo while unattended by his parent(s)/guardian and was killed by an animal that obviously does not come into contact with humans and is therefore CAGED IN A ZOO BEHIND SECURE BORDERS.

    WE live in a world of non accountability and passiveness......the parent should have been watching this 3 year old and there is NO ONE else to blame

    All other info about the animals is irrelevant......why are you all thinking about the "poor parent"....the child DIED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reality99

      kat's ignorance of what happened in this situation is the result of reading CNN's lame article and using a chemically produced imagination. Read the Pittsburgh media stories on this.

      The zoo operators need some criminal defense lawyers after hearing about the incompetence of their "enclosure" designs.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kerry

    It's something that never should have been possible in the first place. The platform should be secured. I'm sure it will be after this. A little too late for this family. Terribly tragic. RIP.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mai

      The platform IS secure. I've been there many times and this child would not have been able to climb in himself. The mother lifted him over a 4-5 foot safety rail and he fell in immediately. This is not the animals' fault. Yes, I feel horrible for the child, and the mother. Because she has to live with what she did for the rest of her life. But these animals do not deserve to be destroyed over this. They did nothing wrong.

      The mother should face charges for endangering her child. Wouldn't it be common sense to not dangle your child over a 14.5 foot drop into an enclosure full of animals? I empathize with them, but this call for the animals' blood is not right and needs to stop.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • daftshadow

      I agree. The observation deck is indeed secure. It was just the recklessness and stupidity of the mother to put her child's life in danger. Leave the animals alone. Wasn't their fault.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SummerPAMom

    I am disgusted by these comments...let me address the fact that the Pittsburgh Zoo is one of the finest in the nation. We visit often and donate to this amazing place – and they have incredible exhibits, a fantastic history of reproduction with the animals, and awesome staff. The exhibits are safe – this is in NO WAY a fault of the zoo. This entire tragedy is the result of a split second of poor judgment by a mother...but make no bones about it, this woman should not be judged by us. Each and every person on here is guilty of a mis-step...of a lapse in a carefree moment. This woman paid the ultimate price for hers, and instead of being so harsh, perhaps you can take a moment to pray for or wish her peace. This woman is probably suicidal with grief...the zoo workers are undoubtedly mourning the loss of this young boy and of a beloved, endangered animal. This is an unspeakable tragedy, but what's worse are these comments which reflect so poorly on our society as a whole. You should be ashamed.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • jwr57


      November 4, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      You should be ashamed for supporting this cruel imprisonment of animals for profit. You're a self-righteous witch that probably goes to the circus every year too to watch the amazing animals and their amazing staff do wonderful things to wild animals. You are so amazingly wrong it's pathetic.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Agree. The mom has to live with this forever. She doesn't need random people reminding her that she's at fault. So sad!

      November 4, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      Well said..... sad for all.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sciencemom1

      Well said

      November 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • SummerPAMom

      @TheVocalAtheist – it's unfortunate that you have such a poor opinion of zoos. I cannot speak for all, but I know that the Pittsburgh zoo is not for entertainment purposes alone...they are working to preserve and protect the populations of endangered animals. There are, of course, two sides to all stories, and it is terrible that these animals cannot live in their natural habitats – many of which would be much more dangerous for them than the zoo. But these animals are in good care, and the breeding program at the zoo is doing much to assist the dwindling populations that might otherwise be already extinct were it not for these efforts. My post is in no way self-righteous – it is simply to ask that commenters stop judging both the zoo and the mother when this is a terrible accident that could happen to countless people.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      Well said SummerPAMom. I can't even imagine the suffering of that family and poor child.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      "it's unfortunate that you have such a poor opinion of zoos"

      Really? I guess I must be if you say so.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sheila

    Terribly sad. Zoos are for wild animals. Wild animals are potentially dangerous. Too often they are considered "kid oriented" or "fun", so that caution is thrown to the wind. Same with going to State Parks or feeding your kids "food items" marketed to kids which contain harmful ingredients, preservatives and dyes that can show up as health problems later. All of us need to re-think everything. Marketing is deceptive and so are our own interpretations and minds.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      "Zoos are for wild animals"

      I think you have that backwards, zoos are for humans to imprison wild animals for profit.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rhan H.

    I think both the Zoo and the mother is to be held accountable. The mother of course for being stupid and putting her child in danger and the Zoo for not using extra precaution by putting up a metal net or gate to make sure there is NO ACCIDENTS with these deadly animals. The reason there are no gates or extra boundaries set up is because it takes away from the feel of a natural environment. The "feel" of a natural environment is important to keep people coming to get the best close-up experience possible but safety is compromised and accidents are possible. Shame on them both!!

    November 4, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mai

      There are barriers around the enclosure. Where this occurred, there is a 5-5 foot tall barrier that the child would not have been able to climb. There is also a catch net below it, but the child unfortunately bounced off, from what I've seen. There are precautions in place.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Genold

    Anyone who has spent time in Pittsburgh would not be surprised by this article. Any parent who would lift a three year old up above a fence to look at a pack of wild carnivorous dogs would qualify as a recipient of yet another Darwin award earned magnificently by yet another American. A pity a wild animal in an enclosure must be killed because of the stupidity of a human being.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sara

    I've been to the Pittsburgh Zoo multiple times and I know there is no way a child could get into an enclosure without a parent holding them out where they are not supposed to be. The zoo staff take extra precautions to keep both visitors and animals safe.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. akmac65

    Stupid people using this as a political soapbox. Someone's child died. Unless you were there (and I wasn't) you do not know exactly what happened. Kids that age can be remarkably inventive at escaping but one would think the enclosure in a public zoo would be more secure and the parents more attentive. A tragedy no matter what the cause, however.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. alphadawg7

    That information has not been released yet. All of the articles on the web about this say the same thing.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marisa

    I would have jumped in after my child. My life be damned. I am not letting my child die alone in such a horrible violent way.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nelda

    Everyone makes mistakes. I feel sad for the parent who will have to live with the consequences of ignoring safety rules.
    It is not clear whether the dogs or the fall killed the little child. I also feel sad for the zookeepers who raised the litter of dogs by hand feeding them and trying to keep this species from becoming extinct.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cannondaler

    Don't shoot the dogs...............shoot the parents.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KenName*


    November 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sad & bad

    This reminds me of when MJ dangled his little boy over the railing of his hotel room how many stories above...children can so easily wiggle out of parent arms. Such a preventable tragedy...think, people!

    November 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. doabitofhomework

    I see no "blame" here at all. An error of judgment by the mother is NOT blame – it's an ACCIDENT. The zoo isn't at fault, either. Nor can you blame wild animals for acting as their genes tell them. "Pack" mode clicks in when a group is available, and when something invades their marked territory, or offers a creature to hunt for food. They're enclosed simply BECAUSE they are wild animals, NOT PETS, and this behavior is predictable and known to the zoo. That's why they were enclosed, so the public would NOT be at risk. They can't control it if a child falls in.

    The child is gone, and that is a profoundly tragic thing, which far too many people here are indifferent to.

    Not only are we quick to blame, then, but we're something worse – callous. As a society, the callousness seems to rule. Not only the child, but the mother – whose life is now shattered for good – deserve our compassion. It's all that is left for us to give.

    We are so quick to lay blame, and do it freely, even BEFORE the facts are in.

    When being "snarky" is cool, and trolling fun, even when people suffer and die, that's no longer just trolling or being snarky; it's being EVIL.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
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