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. Ned Racine

    You have to be a Republican.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jon McAvoy

    And I dont believe in fairy tales so i dont know jesus or "god" i mean if he was real the child would had been ok right? Maybe you need to get your head checked out if your seeing someone that claims to be jesus or having conversations with a god! We call those kind of people crazy!!! Take a pill please theres plenty of free help available need me google a free clinic for you?

    November 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff

    Jon and your followers...go play in traffic!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. nepawoods

    obvious trolling, folks.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jon McAvoy

    A republican? I would rather be mauled to death by hamsters! Nothing political about my statement! Calm down smoke a joint you hippie!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bryan

    Is there not one decent person on this entire comment board!? The mother MAY have been careless but she didn't deserve to have her child killed. A bunch of heartless nebishes with an internet signal.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jon McAvoy

    I dont play in traffic and i always look.both ways before i cross the street!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pbernasc

    As a father of a 4y and 22 months old girl, this hurts really bad.

    Always assume your kid will be able to free herself at the worst moment.
    Never underestimate how much a kid can get herself more in troubles than she already is.
    With boys assume that even more

    November 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim33

    This would not have happened if someone had a gun. Pennsylvania makes it difficult to get a CCW permit. If someone had a gun those dogs would have been dead and the child would be alive.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thank you!!!

      That is absolutely correct. If more decent, intelligent people were permitted to carry guns, there would be less tragedies like this or the incident at the movie theatre in Colorado. Five or six heroes would have had their pistols drawn and firing before that poor toddler hit the ground. Too bad Pennsylvania does not try to limit who is allowed to reproduce. And I truly could not care less if this species of dog was sent that much closer to extinction. All manner of creatures have gone extinct over the course of earth's history. Natural selection is a beautiful thing. Don't fight it.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. Wes

    If some of you callous jerks had been there like I was when it happened you probably wouldn't be making such a joke of it. I thank God I had already left that exhibit and witnessed none of it, but knowing a child died where I had just been is harrowing and still making me physically sick.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike Scott

    Mom will sue for millions and win and the zoo will be forced to go out of business.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      Sue? For what? Money? What is that going to bring? Not your child back!!! Every parent(s) knows their child is someone that money can't buy. The child was only two years old, he did not even get to see life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • barfly

      another idiot

      November 5, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • barfly

      m scott is correct. investigate these post birth women

      November 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spendlove

      The Zoo should sue the mother instead, and the zoo should win.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • grouchomx

      She will sue for "Why didn't you build your fence 2 feet higher to protect from idiots like me who sacrificed their child's life for no good reason?" Sad thing is, she'll probably win...

      November 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      They should shoot the dogs and put the zoo officials in jail for negligence.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Mother sure has blame, but zoo knew that stupid people do stupid things like put their child on the railing. So, why, oh why, could zoo simply not have put a design of posts and railings and attached chain link fencing. It is very cheap and could have been put up very easily and this child would be alive today. YES, YES, YES, mother has balme too, but was it too much to ask to just have some fencing – that's all. Sure, go ahead and have the mother stoned if you must, but her actions were not the only balme here. We are talking about saving a child's life, regardless of the stupidty of the mother.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Bob, that would be wrong. The dogs did nothing wrong. They did what came naturally to them. They are an endangered species, as well. I also disagree that the zoo was negligent.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. iprstudent033

    If that was my child that fell in there, Bear, Tiger, Lion, or Dog, I would jump in and and frighten the animals away or cover my child in safety. People just don't know there capabilities until they try it and their adrenaline starts to pump. Remember, we are the supreme being on earth, life or death, I would do what ever it takes to keep my child from such tragedy like this. My condolence goes to the child. 🙁

    Who knows, the mother might be a motive behind this. First thing to check, was there a life insurance taken out on the child? The most for a child is 30k.

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

      Stop and look at how disgusting your post is. Who are you to judge? A tragedy has occurred and a lot of compassion and prayers are needed for this family.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      if you new thi family like i do you would not make these comments

      November 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • evolved one

      You are one twisted puppy.....and based on your comment, NO, humans are not the supreme being on earth.....SICK, SICK, SICK......get a life, troll.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      I'm just saying... If I was to see a child fall into danger like that. I would expect everyone and their momma to jump in and frighten the animals away. Use your brain, you idiot!! I don't care if it was a lion, what is that cat going to do to me if I had everyone in there with me?

      November 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • harpman

      Wild dogs can kill a tiger. You could not jump in and frighten them. Just shows you don't know what you are talking about.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Everymom

      The fact is, you really don't know how you would behave in this or any other dangerous situation. I see you have "student" in your screen name, which signifies to me that you are young, so I don't want to be hard on you. But we all want to believe we would do heroic and wonderful things in such situations. As we get older, however, and we experience so much of life, we realize that none of us can say with certainty what we would or would not do until we are actually in any given situation. We can only hope it never happens to us. And we shouldn't judge.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen S

      I agree heck yea I would've jumped in and protected my child and have someone more time to save my child!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      These were dogs, yes, I said dogs.... A kick would do the job to kick these mutts away. SAVE YOUR CHILD!!! IF SOMETHING LIKE THIS EVER HAPPENS, I HOPE EVERYONE JUMPS IN AND DO THE RIGHT THING!! DAMN HUMANS!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      If someone was burning in a vehicle, would you run to rescue them or would you just watch them burn to death?

      November 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      Is it not in our instinct to jump into action? Are we not HUMANS? If we are no the superior race on earth, then who? Who has evolved with a brain like ours? PEOPLE, JUST DON'T STAND THERE TO POINT, WATCH, SCREAM, AND SAY OMG. I can't believe the people around there don't feel any guilt at all. Just standing there looking as the child get mulled!!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      If you or anyone had jumped into the pen, you'd be as dead as the child. You don't get to "shoo" wild animals away. No human, or multiple humans, is a match for pack animal hunting machines.

      November 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kelly manster

    It is all the dumb moms fault! who leans their kid into a wild aimals pen!!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      thank you kelly!!! i totally agree with you.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      every parent know kids climb and get into things, sadly it was the moms responsibility. I'm amazed animals would kill a small child. I think she is selfish to sue and the animals should not be punished .

      November 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sandi

    mother will sue for millions when it was her own fault the child fell.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. joe

    it is very possible the mom could have insured the baby and "accidentally" let the baby to fall and be eaten up

    November 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
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