November 5th, 2012
02:50 PM ET

Zoo: No time to save child mauled by African painted dogs

It happened in seconds. A 2-year-old boy slipped over a railing, bounced into a safety net, bounced again, and tumbled into an exhibit of African painted dogs, which mauled him to death.

The heartbreaking scenario came to light Monday as the Pittsburgh Zoo released details of the child's death Sunday.

If someone had jumped in to save him, would it have helped? "In my professional opinion, no," zoo President Barbara Baker, a veterinarian, said at a news conference today. "There were 11 dogs in the exhibit."

Although there were zoo officials within feet of the exhibit, and others rushed to the scene, it was too late – it was clear the child was dead, Baker said. "There was no reason to send our staff into harm's way" at that point, she said.

An emergency weapons team and the police arrived. The dogs were moved to another area and are now quarantined. But one dog refused to leave. The police needed to access the scene so, with the zoo's approval, two officers opened fire, killing the remaining dog.

The medical examiner found that the little boy did not die from the fall, Baker said.

Railings throughout the zoo are designed to make it difficult to place children on them, Baker said. They're at a 45-degree angle so that if a child is placed on one and falls, he or she would hopefully fall backward, away from the animal enclosure, she said.

Pittsburgh police say the child was with his 34-year-old mother when he fell from the top of a platform railing and "was immediately attacked by eleven dogs inside the pen."

"Homicide investigators have interviewed several witnesses and zoo personnel, and the investigation is ongoing," police said in a written statement.

Asked whether the zoo takes responsibility for not creating a fail-proof system, Baker responded, "We do everything we possibly can," and "we evaluate it every single day." There is "no such thing as a fail-proof exhibit," she said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums will require a report from the zoo, and if it deems necessary, will send an investigative team, Baker said.

All the dogs had physicals in September, which include rabies shots, she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected the zoo in September and found no deficiencies, she said. The agency, by law, will return for a follow-up inspection.

Baker did not say whether or how procedures may change as a result of the accident. The zoo has never faced this kind of tragedy, she said.

The zoo will reopen tomorrow, but the African painted dogs exhibit is closed until further notice.

The child has not been identified, and his family has made no public statement.

See our story from yesterday here.

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Filed under: Animals • Dogs • Pennsylvania • U.S.
soundoff (964 Responses)
  1. Vigil

    "(The rails) are at a 45-degree angle so that if a child is placed on one and falls, he or she would hopefully fall backward, away from the animal enclosure..."

    Can someone explain how or why she tried to balance her 2 year old son on top of something like that?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • AgentBasheba

      She was/is an idiot.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerry Jones

      He didn't fall out of her arms, he lost his balance and fell, which means she let him go. Criminal charges should be against her, not against the zoo.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jarmachien

      The mother is (obviously) incredibly stupid. Too stupid to have children. And now she doesn't.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tom

    The ZOO should have wall seperating any dangerous anilmal from th epublic – and not a railings. THe ZOO should be sued. ZOO need to be child proofed and idiot proofed. .

    November 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • LYNN

      I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and have seen this exhibit several times. The dogs are in a deep pit and the railing is at a 45 degree angle at 4 1/2 to 5 feet high. This mother is beyond idiocy, but there is no fix for that. Unfortunitely, it ended tragically and I hope and pray that the mother was not trying to get rid of her child.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vigil

      She could just have easily dropped him into the Grand Canyon or into a white water river, but we're not going to close our national parks because of stupid people, are we?

      November 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • JackieR

      @Tom..why should the zoo be sued/closed down??? They put up a barrier WITH SIGN and the top of the barrier has an angle which clearly should discourage any idiot from putting a CHILD up there. REALLY?!! This is the zoo's fault? So..if some idiot was speeding and drove into your home carelessley...I guess you should be sued and your home should be torn down because it was your fault. What a MORON.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      Why don't they just make you take an IQ test before you enter the zoo/park? If' you're too stupid, you don't get in...easy!

      November 6, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • tba

      There is no way to make something fool or idiot proof, you are dealing with fools and idiots. They will always find a way around things meant to protect them. The ones with no sense of good judgement weed their own genes out of the population. It's only the the smart ones inventing ways to keep people safe that keep more idiots from taking themselves out of the general population. Because you know 20 years from now, if that kid had lived, he would take HIS kids to some zoo and say to himself, 'I remember when my mom put ME on the rail to see, let's put you up there too, uh-duhhhhh'.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZeusCarver

      Again the answer to sheer adult stupidity is to sue someone because they allowed you to be stupid. The parents these days are becoming more and more irresponsible. To think you need to take a test and get a license to drive a car and only a misguided idea of parenting to have a child.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jane Russell

    yet another reason to ban zoos. Animals like that are meant to roam free.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      these animals would be extinct without zoos fool

      November 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheVocalAtheist


      No Lee, please don't call a person a fool when it is clear that you are the fool. Zoo's are for humans to profit from wildlife. Sanctuaries are places where animals can thrive.

      November 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • treez

      Where would the sanctuaries get the money? Zoos are set up so tourist can provide funds to care for the animals. Breeding programs are in place to maintain vitality of the species that otherwise would go extinct in the wild. If I were an animal I would want to be in a zoo, not worry about predators and finding food.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      Until people have more concern for the environment, too many (due to money, time, etc) can not get to see these animals in their natural habitat. And then how will they get to see these animals live, in order to have empathy and care for them??

      Zoos aren't what they used to be, little barred cages with concrete floors. They are vastly improved, much more of a habitat. PLUS the way humans are encroaching on their territory, THEY are the ones people want to kill (like that leopard accused of killing 15) so how do we preserve them? Human nature is not going to change over the next 20-50 years, so many species in zooz/breeding programs will be gone from existence.
      There's a lot more to this than 'free all the animals'!!

      November 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. yvette


    November 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Huh??

    I know that in this information age, we have to put any possible relevant and irrelevant fact in a story, but pointing out that the dogs were current on their rabies shots just seems insensitive.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • SillyBean

      RE: Why do they point out the animals were current on Rabies vaccinations?

      DUH: The first thing that is checked for in ANY animal attack is whether or not the animal was afflicted with some kind of condition that would make them more prone to attack, like Rabies. Wether or not the victim survived is irrelevent... The point is that the animals were enclosed, every safety precaution was taken to ensure the safety of the visitors – including vaccinating the animals against diseases that would make them more prone to violent and unpredictable behavior, such as rabies. Saying they were vaccinated is the zoo making it crystal clear that every precaution (from railings to shots) is observed on their grounds. Unfortunately you cannot idiot proof the public square and even if you could, they would just breed a better idiot.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @Sillybean. Bravo!

      November 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. confused

    gutless zoo workers. quick action by anybody would have saved the boy, there's a big difference between a child that's two get tall an adult. and if 5 people had jumped in there would have been no tragedy.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Too bad you could not have had chance to be HERO,jumping 11 ft. into pit would have been good stunt to get others killed.Maybe you could have read the Mothers mind and grabbed the baby before she put it in danger.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerry Jones

      Mother should not have put the kid on the railing. End of argument.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      adult African Painted Dog – 40-80# ea; @2-1/2' tall at shoulder; @4-1/2 ft long; 42 teeth designed for shearing & speed in consuming prey (including bones); BFQ (bite force quotient) of 142 – highest of over 280 species in it's order, Carnivora – as tragic as this was, NOTHING would have saved this poor child – nor any person who jumped in with him.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      @tazmom I agree. Here wannabes just don't understand.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Oops that should be hero wannabes 🙂

      November 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      ty lizamom. prey includes African Buffalo – @3 ft tall at shoulder; 6-11 ft long; 1-2000 POUNDS with horns...have few predators & can defend self against lions (takes several lions to bring buffalo down) yet a pack of these dogs can! even as a mother (who cannot even bear the pain of imagining...), i don't see how jumping in would have done anything but cause more death...these are very smart PREDATOR dogs, beautiful, but dangerous!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      @tazmom absolutely gorgeous dogs and I'm sad the tragedy was compounded by killing one of them. Wish they could have tranquilized instead.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. P-dub

    The dogs were current on their rabies shots??!!! And why was this detail included in this story?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      because if they are not rapid and it is show to be the fault of the kids mother(which it is) then they will not and should not be put down.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jane Russell

    That's what is called survival of the fittest Obviously they survive outside in the wild in Africa without "zoo food.".

    November 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • littlebooglies

      They may be good hunters, but with a 50% puppy mortality rate, I wouldn't exactly call them "fittest." Not to mention, the mom of these pups died from a burst uterus, so the pups would have died as well if the zoo didn't intervene.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Molly View

    The facts stated about the railing and rabies shots is meant to explain how much work the zoo has done to be safe. As a newspaper reporter, I think this story is very well researched about the facts. It is sad that the boy died, but it was clearly the fault of the mother. I can't imagine putting my child on a railing like that! Heartbreak for certain but the zoo should not be blamed nor sued.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dan

    I'm a hero. If I would have been there I would have leapt into that pit and got the boy and jumped back out. I'm trained in karate. I'm a hero.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. reality check

    Stupid stupid mother. You never take chances with railings. You always hear about some idiot thst dies because they slip. The child wsd blameless it was moms responsibility to keep her todler safe.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Audra

      Couldn't agree more. I sympathize with this family but the fact remains; It was this mothers error that caused the death of her child.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Portland tony

    Zoos give the ordinary folks a live glimpse of what kind of creatures live in our world. Yes it's better to let them live in the wild, but showing civilized man they do exist might keep more alive in their native habitat in the long run...Friggin' tragic...the incident with the wild dogs.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. justin bieblet

    will this mother be nailed for negligence?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. smartyankee

    This shows the superior intelligence of Americans.

    Put your child on the railing. What could possibly go wrong ?

    November 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      You're painting a wide brush by saying that all Americans are stupid.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      I'm american, and i agree that a pretty large majority of Americans are pretty stupid, along with a large majority of people on earth.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jose Truda Palazzo, Jr.

    A terrible accident, but shooting an endangered animal was a very stupid thing to do. If it wa sto save the child´s life it would be warranted, but after the sad fact... it´s just another sad fact.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      1000 percent agreed.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Casey

      The zoo should lose all of their endangered species permits and be prosecuted by USFWS for giving the police permission to shoot one of the highly endangered species that they were responsible for. Inexcusable!

      November 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      i fully support and try to protect ALL of God's creatures – wild or otherwise whether endangered or not. BUT – i cannot fathom how ANY human being could just sit and watch a 2-year old child being EATEN (as you know this is what the wild dogs would do) and not do something about it. even if they are no longer living – IT IS UNACCEPTABLE that any human would value the life of ANY animal over another human being...even if they are no longer breathing. could you REALLY sit & watch your child? geez oh pete's. and you cannot say 'I'd never do something so stupid" because you could, you have, and you will again in the future. we ALL have. the zoo is also not at fault. they had the rails, the nets, and i'm am sure they had postings of warnings. yes, ultimately, it is the mother who made the choice, as many of us have, to try to let her child enjoy the zoo – just with tragic consequences. my prayers to the mother and family. may the love of Jesus bring you some kind of peace...

      November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      Everyone in here will go on about how they would have jumped in and tried to save the kid, but lets all be honest, in that situation, NO ONE here would have jumped in. its easy to say you would while sitting in your comfortable chair in an air conditioned house, but you would not have tried to stop it.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
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