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. Hide Behind

    Hard to potect the ignorant and careless from harming ourself, others, and themselves; don't much care if they harm themselves let it be, but when they harm others I have no sympathy.
    Unless thid woman had an IQ under 30 And an extra chromie to back it. Give 25 years forr criminal neglect of a child and throw in negligent homicide as well.
    Too much of tjis weeing willow jorse crap that makrs rest pf scociety. Pay for peoples bad devidions and making them into victims and rewarded by state. For their personal mistakes.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Better English will go a long way in winning arguments.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Be sensitive

      Kids are much more active in the last few decades than they were in the past due to the kinds of foods humans now eat. Mothers get tired, and the poor woman made a poor decision, she lost a child, may God give her strength to deal with it and I hope she can have more kids to fill in the void left by this kid's loss. God bless.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    This is so horrible. Ultimately the zoo is to blame. A blank check should be given to the mother and the zoo should be closed forever.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenny

      God, I hope my sarcasm meter is broken here.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mosesthejew

      R U crazy? How about Mother pays for loss of endangered species and not allowed to reproduce again.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • eagles_fan

      Jim, you cannot possibly be serious. The mother is totally to blame.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Big Bob

    The dogs did walk away from this all with a full tummy.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Randall Bart

    The mother should pay the zoo the cost of being closed for a day, and for the loss of the dog shot by the cop..

    November 5, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. chazzz

    I suppose you could say that if you take your child to see dangerous animals, something bad could happen...

    November 5, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. barb

    No, the stupid Mother is to blame. She should apologize publicly to the people who had to witness what she provoked, and pay for all of their therapy.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mosesthejew

    Perhaps this mother will receive Smypathy from THE DEVIL!

    November 5, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. krazy dood

    I think people should be required to take IQ tests before they're allowed to become parents.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. barb

    "Confused" read Tazmom. Can you fly? Are you Spiderman? Obviously, your ego is as idiotic as this mother was stupid.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      seriously...she did not mean for this to happen she grabbed for him his bulky winter coat stopped her from getting hold of him,,,Yes..stupid to put him at the railing...but all the cruel remarks don't help. these parents are dying inside have petty. god forbid some other type of tragidy happen to any of us

      November 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Hide Behind

    I've but one more comment and that has to do with "dogs" these are not per se they are wild untamed animals.
    As to need of killing one animal I doubt the need and it was more a natural action to be safe and kill something by men with guns.
    NOt ann all uncommon action by men in blue or hoods of tje street and woods.
    One issue does concern me and that is disrespect for the childs remains that laid in open for so long.
    If you seen another human body especially a child how or woud you prot.ect its remains.
    If armed would you stand thetewhile they chewed ravenously upon the parts.waiting for orders?
    There are laws not on books that very few follow today. Sad bit of course they are vivilized man.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gimmebreak

    The mother put the child up on the rail, she is to blame period. For all of it.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      nobody realizes that more then her i'm sure

      November 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Name*

    So sad ..There has to be better safeguards .

    November 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mosesthejew

      Perhaps IQ tests should be required before one is allowed into zoo. Thousands of years of evolution yet the stupidity gene can not be removed from human gegenschein pool. This mother was 100% at fault and criminal charges should be at least looked into here!

      November 6, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • LindaSC

      you can only do so much to fix stupid.. and the mother will live with that decision of not putting her child's safety in mind every day for the rest of her life

      November 6, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • What was she thinking?!

      The mother is accountable as tragic as it is, why would you place your child near a high ledge in any situation let alone with a pack of carnivores below?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. ma & pa

    We are sincerely amazed that some gentle people who maybe have sweet, baby-protecting, nurturing dogs in their homes, don't seem to understand any other kind. African painted dogs, most of dogs bred and trained to fight, wolves and most coyotes will kill any living thing, and more quickly if it is crying and looking helpless. Such animals are 'killing machines', nothing like our house dogs who patiently try to love and protect us. Of course, those in the zoo would have killed any wanna-be heros. They tear out the throat and abdominal cavity and are stopped only by weapons. ...but, if someone has a death wish...

    November 6, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Paratrooper123

      I know predators and if you can make them feel like you will cause them bodily harm then there is a really food chance that you will make them back down. The people that were there and saw this happening and did not jump in there all I can say is you really suck at life!!!! One good size man making a lot of nose could have made a difference! If it was my kid I would have been in there right after my kid trying to kill ever wild dog that came close to my kid, but hey that is just me and I have been to war so what do I know about putting your self first!!!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mama bear

    If it were MY child, I would have jumped in that exhibit, on top of those dogs if they had already started attacking...11 dogs or 20...it doesn't matter. I would have done SOMETHING!! Those dogs would have had to kill me first. I can't say I would have jumped in for someone else's child, but I sure as hell would have for my own child. I have a 2 year old and I would NEVER put her on the railing of a zoo exhibit, but if by some freak accident she fell in harms way, I would be the #1 person trying to save her. And I'm sure if one person HAD jumped into that exhibit, others would have followed – a crowd is always waiting for someone to make the first move, but then others are usually quick to follow suit. If there were one or more adults in there yelling and screaming and running at those dogs I bet they would have backed off. But then again, they would have to be people willing to get hurt to save the child's life. Not zoo keepers who are trained to care for and stay away from the animals. My child's life is more important than my own, and I would have acted accordingly.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      think about it the crowd was other moms with there children would you really want them to jump in all reports say they would not have come out

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

      I agree...I would have been over the edge before he bounced a 2nd time! Lord this is your baby! My son was sliding down a ice hill once when he was around 10 and fell off and hit his head. I screamed at everyone on the top not to "go" my son is not moving! I have no idea how I got down that ice hill in the way or time, but I must have been flying down that mountain...to get my little boy who was knocked out. I blamed myself for him not having a helmet. I understand we sometimes make bad choices, but dang this was just too much! how very very sad 😦

      November 6, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • PK

      But you sound reasonable and responsible! The child sholld have been secured in a stroller, not free to wander. It appears mom wasn't even holding onto her child. So sad and tragic.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      another mother...so you did not make your child wear a helmet....he could of died ...so why are you forgiven

      November 6, 2012 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • stef24

      I hope you're not slamming this child's mother for not jumping in after him...because the article doesn't tell you what, if anything, she tried to do. Perhaps she attempted to climb the fence but people pulled her off and held her back? We just don't know. I'm NOT talking about whether or not she was at fault for the way she held him on a railing,..I'm only referring to your comment about jumping in after your child and if it's directed towards this boy's mother.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      You jump in, and then you'd be dead. Nice going, mom.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      Why not, LIZ MOM? Rather me than my child. This tells me your love for your child.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      @ LIZMOM, I've seen the world already. Why not give the child the chance to experience the world, even if it means your life.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Klancy Schmertz

      . . . and you would have been killed also.
      A zoo is not a Disney exhibit. A zoo contains wild animals, with great effort taken to display them in as natural a habitat as possible, for humans to learn about them.
      Those who have taken lifesaving know that the last thing one does is to go in after someone as it may result in two dead people instead of one. That would have been the case here. If the child dies and the mother is 34, she can give birth again – if she is alive.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      @Americanese By all means, launch yourself into that pit. You have my blessing.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. No2Atheism

    I am so glad the parents was watching the child....oh wait.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
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