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. yneemee

    Sad as it is but there are millions of 3 year old human pack animals and only 5,000 painted dogs in the entire world – most of whom have been killed off by other human pack animals.... it is what it is

    November 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • rlbarricklow

      I assume you don't have children for anyone who does wouldn't say something as shallow as "it is what it is."

      November 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©


      November 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • slant

      well, 4,999...

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

      What an unnecessary comment. This is a unthinkable tragedy. This was not the dogs fault or the child's fault, just an awful awful accident. I can't imagine the desperation of the onlookers and especially the child's parents or whoever was caring for him. It must have been horrible.

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

      I so wish I understood why comments are allowed on here. Absolutely disgusting...

      November 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom the Other One


      I agree. As tragic as the death of a 3 year old is, so is that of an endangered species due to the stupidity of a species that is over populated. But don’t expect many objective responses. As you pointed out humans are pack animals and will respond with emotion. Just think of how many would physically attack you for something as simple as your comment. But we are the shallow ones…right?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Pragmatist

      Much as people don't like it, Yneemee is correct. We are humans and emotional beings, but put aside your kneejerk reactions for a bit, and it is true: one endangered Painted Dog's life is more valuable due to its scarcity than that of a human child whose species numbers in the billions, and most of which do not contribute anything that spectacular (really, how many of us are Einsteins or Da Vincis, and how many of us just coast along creating nothing really lasting or memorable until we're dead?)

      Or course, to this particular child's mother, these distinctions are meaningless assuming she was a devoted mother who loved her child. Likewise, if your child had to die to save 500,000 other people, would you be happy that your child was dead? Not likely.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lucy

    It is a tragic accident. Unless one was there and saw the entire event, there is no room for judgment on how it all played out. It's easy to look back and figure out how to best handle emergencies. Surely better safety measures will be put in place, but as most people know, almost every type of safety measure can be in place and still someone can get hurt. People always come before animals. It does not matter how endangered the animal may be, a human life matters more. There are lots of parents who try their best to watch their child(ren) every second, and some parents who don't watch very carefully. I am sure the parent in this case is very upset.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • rebecca

      amen lucy..human life is far more precious and important than animals.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Babyboohoo

    You can't make chicken soup with just water. This was a recipe for disaster for the beginning. Parent was not watching, the child. Fence too low for a child to climb up and fall in. And finally, dogs were probably hunger. Blame game: Animals are animals. Zoo's needs to setup more protection. Parents needs to learn how to protect their kids. No way if my child falls in a den would I not be down there with him. Period!

    November 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • JWolff24

      The child did not and could not have climbed up. The mother placed him up there like an idiot.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chacho

    nothing said about where the parents were. Dont blame the zoo are the dogs, blame the parents.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Or even better – how about not placing any blame unless you're heard all the facts and details of exactly what happened. And you have not heard those things. See how that works?

      November 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Will T. Fokke

    Terrible accident. My condolences to the parents and to the zookeepers.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jake

    What beautiful creatures! So sad that one of them had to be put down because of a HUMAN's mistake. I'm sure those dogs just love being caged up and viewed for entertainment. If you are going to cage wild animals, don't act surprised when they act..WILD. It's tragic, but the mother really is a moron. How could you put your kid in danger like that? Anyways, RIP to the boy and beautiful dog.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Agree with you 100% Heartbreaking for both the child and dog.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Jake, don't be fooled thinking tragedy can't happen to any one of us at any given second. If you truly cannot have an ounce of empathy for these people, I don't know what hope we have for this world...

      November 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nichole

    You all are disturbed. I have 3 children myself ages 5,4,3 . You have no right to point a finger and make accusations of a mother u don't know and weren't a witness to the incident. Accidents happen all the time. U turn your head for a split second and tragedy happens. And all u ppl crying over a dog. Come on seriously.. The dogs were killing a child and u wanna boo hoo about a dog being killed. Did u not read they tried practical ways and the dog was being to aggressive ans not responding. And all you casting judgment that she didnt jump in. U dont know her. U dont know if there was anyone with her or the details of the situation. This is a cruel world for people to automatically assume she was a bad mother. Maybe she was maybe she wasn't but it's no ones place to cast judgment. She now has to live with them memory of seeing her son brutally attacked and killed by dogs. . You people should all step back snd revaluate your personal theories on life. Maybe something could have been done differently but fact is its to late now and NO ONE could have forseen this tragedy .

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

      So the child is to blame? Just because you are a parent doesn't give you a pass on blame. SPOILER ALERT: See the movie "Flight." His drinking had nothing to do with the accident. Did he break the rules of his profession ("parent"), yes. Should the airlines pay up for any deaths related from the crash and his drinking? No. His drinking did not cause the accident. This is why I am immune to be a juror...I have common sense.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • realist

      Sorry, I don't buy it. Her parents may normally be the best in the world, but there is no way the parents or guardian of this kid is not at fault. A three year-old just does not get in this situation if the parent or guardian are in the least attentive. Just not possible!

      November 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pebbles

      Just for your information , another news sight said 'The mother had held the child over the fence to be able to see the animals better and last grip of the child and he fell into the pit"..

      SO the mother is at fault period.

      November 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • more common sense than you

      really Nichole, how many of your kids have you killed off because accidents "just happen"?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. Cryo

    I can't imagine a 3 year old is going to climb over a railing on their own. It sounds like the parent was probably holding them up over the railing, then either lost their grip or left the kid to sit there on their own, likely ignoring signs and logic telling them that might be a bad idea. Hundreds of thousands of children have undoubtedly visited this exhibit without incident, so its difficult to blame the zoo.

    Another article mentioned that the kid bounced off protective netting on the way down, so maybe they had some additional safety measure in place that didn't work as well as it could have, but an establishment can only go so far in ensuring the safety of those who break rules to put themselves or others at unnecessary risk. The kid could have just as easily fallen off the railing of a boat, or the roof of a building if the parent held them over the edge in an unsafe manner.

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

    One of the most endangered species and they had to shoot one of them because his parents weren't taking proper precautions.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CommonSense

    I agree...when I have taken my young child to a ledge, say the grand canyon, the child is in my arms, my back is to the canyon, and the child looks over my shoulder. Want to look down? The child is in my arms tight (as one) and we both lean over (as one), as a passenger on a motorcycle does. Most importantly, the more unsafe a situation is the closer I am to my child. Imminent danger, the child is in my arms. It is the parents fault.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Hey ComonSense, hope you don't slip on the stone when your holding your child at the ledge...or that your child trys to wiggle out of your arms and your "tight" hold you have...really? I seems that you may have made the same decision this mother did, by holding your child closer to a dangerous situation, the reality is that you were lucky, not a better parent. Actually, you have proven my point from my earlier post, All parents have been in this situation, but 99% of the time nothing happens, but this once an ACCIDENT took place and you pass don't deserve to comment because your a hypocrite!

      November 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lance Legstrong

      The passenger on a motorcycle rides BEHIND the operator, so if you're operating yours holding your kid in front of you, then you can both crash TOGETHER.
      I think the imminent danger is between your ears.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • dalewalk

      Dude, are you like a professional life guard or somethin?

      November 5, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • jarrod

      Safety Tip: When entering a curve alone or 2up on a motorcycle, DON'T LEAN OVER! You're more at risk for a fall. Push the motorcycle into a lean and you (and passenger) keep to the center for balance. If the mother and child were both leaning over the railing, it would still have created an unsafe situation. Keep Centered!

      November 5, 2012 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
    • kerplunk

      common sense....what the heck will you do when you loose your balance on a rim or ledge ? turn in your parent badge you dont understand the dangers of life in general by teaching a small kid its Ok TO GET TO CLOSE TO DANGER.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom the Other One

      And what happens if YOU slip?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Lol. I'm sure they leaned over with their kid in their arms too. Kid squirmed and fell.

      How about this? Don't lean over the railing! :O

      November 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Yes CommonSence very good. And that's what it is. Common Sence!!!!!!!!

      November 8, 2012 at 3:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. mel

    This is my local zoo and what most people don't understand is the setup of the observation deck. It is enclosed on 2 out of 3 sides by very thick glass, the open end has a railing that comes up past my waist (i'm 5'8"), the railing is slanted towards the deck and there is a large net inside the enclosure just beyond the railing. There are also numerous signs posted about not climbing or leaning over, from the local reports we are getting, the mom lifted the son onto the railing and was holding him by the ankles so he could get a better view.
    While yes this is a tragic accident, I feel that the zoo is in no way responsible for this family's irresponsible actions and inability to follow the posted rules. She always could have easily walked an additional 20 feet to the 2nd viewing platform that is fully enclosed and tends to give a better view of the animals.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lab

      Mel, I too live in Pittsburgh and visit this zoo almost weekly with my 2 year old. There is NO way a child could 'climb' up the fence. An adult would have to assist for a child to get up that high. This is such a tragedy. I could not imagine how awful the family feels. Accidents do happen and it's best to take all precautions set out by the zoo to avoid them.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • LightOne

      This breaks my heart. Last time I was at the zoo I was mortified at parents sitting their young toddlers on the fences haphazardly where they could just teeter over into the hippo pool, etc. I just couldn't imagine what they were thinking.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. alligator face

    sorry NICOLE but is yourself that is either mentally challenged or just plain stupid ........anybody could FORESEE this event taking place when an idiot raises their kid above and beyond the safety barrier......and YES it is safe to assume she was not only a bad mother but A HORRIBLE MOTHER....the mother belongs in prison

    November 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • more common sense than you

      right-on alligator face!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kate

    Is it really that important what race this innocent little boy was? He could have been lime green for all I care, the point is this is a tragic accident, and you are pathetic to ask "was he white?"

    November 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Highly Motivated

    A 3 year old falling 14 feet would have been killed instantly. I seriously doubt he was killed by the dogs.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mother

    for a zoo, the exhibit should be built foolproof so children can't fall it. if a mother has 2 or 3 children, she could be distracted. Come on, they need to build these things according to human nature.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      human nature and for human stupidy.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meli

      The observation deck was build 14 feet ABOVE the exhibit. How much more 'foolproof' do you want it?

      November 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • gager

      Sure, and we need a fence around the ocean to prevent the lowest common denominator from drowning.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • I.D. 10 T's

      If a mother has multiple children and can't control those children and or doesn't have eyes in the back of her head, then she shouldn't bring those children out of the house. You speak of "human nature" but forget that you can't and shouldn't keep any wild animal locked up 24/7 and that it's an "animals nature" to protect their surroundings.... this tragedy is not the fault of a pack of wild animal's, it's human's fault, and more importantly it's the parents fault.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reality99

      With a frigging 4 foot fence. FOUR FEET! That's criminal. There was a 14 foot DROPOFF below the 4 foot fence. The zoo operators need to be prosecuted and you need an IQ implant.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • duckforcover

      You can't make anything "fool" proof.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • littlemisslupie

      If you have children and take them to the zoo especially a three year old child you put them in a stroller and you watch your kids, you don't hang over the enclosure. Just once I would like parents to stop blaming everything under the sun for not being vigilant... and if you have 2 or 3 kids and can't keep an eye on them all... here is a tip, maybe 2 or 3 kids is too many for that person to handle. You know there was a time parents took responsibility for their kids and didn't blame everything else for not being attentive. It's not everyone elses job to keep your kids safe.. it's yours. Good day and stay away from the zoo lady.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
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