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. renee

    This is horrific beyond words. As a mother, I could never recover from this. Never.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. clinton

    How come no one notices one important fact that the 3-year old boy fell 14 feet to the ground, even without the attack from the dogs the boy might not survive anyway. All the arguments regarding killing the dogs to save the boy is irrelevent.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. Josie

    All those dogs should've been killed in order to protect a human life. It's a dog!!! What does it matter if the mother wasn't watching?! I guess some people are just the perfect parents. In the end, all those dogs should've ended up dead there's still a few thousand more out there only one of that little boy.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
    • x

      The kid was done within seconds of falling in. African wild dogs are crazy.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      "there's still a few thousand more out there only one of that little boy."

      not anymore

      November 5, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. TheVocalAtheist


    It appears you are as guilty as the rest, right?

    November 5, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. EA

    I disagree with some posters and no, this would never happen to me. Any parent with safety in mind would never put a child on a railing. Ever. The dogs did not deserve to be harmed at all. It is a horrible tragedy, however the animals are not to blame. This child would be alive if the mother had not done this. I am positive there are signs warning people to stay off of the railings- it is common sense.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • RP

      EA said "it is common sense"
      Unfortunately, common sense isn't common.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. x

    One human male could not take on one african wild dog. No way.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • s~

      Dude, he was only 3 years old.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • SandraDee

      @s~ I'm going to guess they're speaking to those who state they'd have jumped in to try and save the child.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      But if 5 or more jumped in, they could have saved him, this place is next to food court, I bet there were many strong man around

      November 5, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • s~

      Even for a grown men I think these "dogs" would be very dangerous.

      In my opinion, the child had very little chance no matter what. I just hope he died from the fall and not from the "dogs'" tearing and ripping.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • sam stone

      If 5 or more would have jumped in, they would have been torn apart, too

      November 5, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. Appalled

    Why is no one talking about the fact that the mother did not jump in to at least try and protect her child?? Accidents happen and people make stupid choices. She obviously picked him up so he could see and lost her grip on him and he fell. It was a dumb mistake, but that isn't the thing that should outrage people. What should, is the fact that she didn't jump in after him to try and protect him. No one did! It was only an 11 foot drop down to dirt. There was also a net on the outside of the railing that you could have grabbed on to and dropped to the ground. Everyone just stood there and watched him essentially get eaten alive.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Some people don't instinctively react that way. It was 14 feet down - that's a LONG ways. She probably reacted by screaming instead of jumping.

      If she had jumped, we would almost surely have two deaths instead of one.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • churflap

      It's likely she would have been killed alongside her child if she had. These are highly territorial predators with some of the most sophisticated pack-hunting behavior in the animal kingdom. Even several adult humans would be unlikely to successfully save the child.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Second guessing peoples' actions, especially in the case of a death, is inhuman, but, hey, that's 'Merika.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      As other stories are reporting, witnesses say that it was the mother that put the child on the railing so he could get a better view and that is how he fell in. The mother was probably in shock at her own stupidity.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • spaz

      Love all you internet heros.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Wow.

      Nice. Very compassionate response.
      How self-righteous of you!
      You must feel like Mother of the Year.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      A mother or father jumping from 14 Feet to their son, probably would have been hard to do anything to help him, once they hit the ground as well....

      November 5, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. MMeans

    And no one here is advocating that the mother should be charged? I don't have kids (don't want them either), but if I did, I wouldn't put them up on a safety railing. Stupid woman cost the life of her own child and an endangered animal.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • D

      I totally agree. The mother should be charged. The kid could not have gotten over the fence without her assistance. What a stupid woman.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • fyre

      Parents commonly sit their kids up on the railings of zoos and aquatic parks despite posted warnings. This is the sad consequence of such an action. Hopefully zoo security gets more aggressive about telling off people who do this. I can't imagine how horrifying it must be to helplessly watch this happen to your child.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. unmoved

    The fall 14 ft. down likely knocked him out if it didn't kill him. Idiot mother standing her child on a railing over wild dogs. I'm glad no more dogs were killed for being dogs. They were in their territory and they acted like wild dogs. Those of you saying you would have jumped in, yeah right. If the fall didn't maim you, the dogs would have killed you. I hate the zoo will get sued. I see parents being irresponsible all the time! Watch your kids!!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. IvanLibya

    The real tragedy here is having killed an endangered species in their own "home" because of the negligence of some stupid woman.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jackie

    This is one of the many reasons that animals should not be in zoos in the first place. This is what wild animals DO. I feel sad for everyone involved. A child is dead, a family is grieving, and those dogs have no idea what just happened – they just want to go home.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • churflap

      Given that many thousands of people visit zoos every day and this almost never happens (and when it does, it is nearly always the result of a human who cannot follow basic instructions and rules, rather than just the mere act of the humans and animals being in the same area) I don't think that's much of an argument. Statistically you'd have a much easier time making the case that people should never go rock-climbing or skiing because sometimes there are tragic accidents.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Poorboy

    Oh my gosh... I am really really sorry for the boy about how much he must be scared and horrified when he fell. He was only 3! What were the parents doing? Were there both father and mother there? I guess some other readers here know that only mother was there? I see that only mother is responsible for this horrible mistake. I agree it is parents' fault, but I am sorry for them too about their horrible pain they must have now.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Charlotte

    My sympathies to the Mother in this time of profound grief. Did she make a poor judgement call, yes, is she partially responsible for the death of her child, unfortunately, yes. This does not however give anyone the right to call her a bad parent, she will live with this for the rest of her life and will be the harshest judge. For those saying they would have jumped in, I applaud your keyboard heroics, but none of us know how we will react to any given situation until it happens. With that being said, even a grown adult may not have been able to rescue this child, depending on the size of the pack, even two or three may not have been able to do anything. A pack will protect their kill (sorry for the terminology, I don't mean it to sound crass), and will attack anyone or anything that comes close to it. This is a terrible tragedy,and the loss of a child far outweighs the life of one African Painted Dog.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Believe me, I am not a big o strong man, but if I see a child in this situation, I would jump in. Only selfish person would hesitate. There are objects around that could be used as a weapon, chairs, branches, etc. I am sure dog attack could be delayed or prevented, this is really surprising to me.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • churflap

      Rob, you don't have eyes in the back of your head, I'm guessing (or four or five arms either.) While you used rocks etc. as a "weapon" against the dogs in front of you, others would quickly come around behind to take you down (and if you turned to face them, the ones you just turned on would be doing it.) It's funny the little plans people have for fending off these predators. Like their prey in the wild (often much larger than they are) never tries to fight or drive them away. If a big squishy sack of meat like yourself was capable of preventing an attack, these animals would be extinct from starvation in the wild.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bluejeans in Chicago

    I don't understand why the zoos aren't designed to prohibit idiotic parents from dangling children over dangerous animal enclosures? Surely by now we know that some parents don't have the common sense God gave a grasshopper. We as a society really need to be more proactive in protecting our children as a whole.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • churflap

      The second you make something idiot-proof, they just go and build a better idiot.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Carole Clarke

    What a shame. Two completely unnecessary deaths all because of one woman's stupidity. While it was not deliberate, it was also not an accident – it was just plain stupid and careless. She wasn't lifting him up to get a better view of flamingos but of a pack of wild carnivores. Perhaps the humans should be the ones enclosed in solid glass walls so that this cannot happen again. I wonder if she has other children – what can she possibly say to excuse herself?

    November 5, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
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