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. Dot8

    Close All Zoos! ... they are a danger to wild animals and humans!

    November 6, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Another Mother


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

      agree 100%. You bring an animal from its natural habitat and then you lock it in a cage and then you must kill it? Makes no sense and the animal was there because the species number is in decline?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Jade

      These dogs were bred in captivity. In fact, this zoo was one of very few success stories for breeding African Wild Dogs in captivity in hopes of preserving genetics for a declining population. These dogs have known no other life than the luxury of a zoo, where food is easy, enrichment is plentiful, and healthcare is always on standby. They are there as representatives for the wild relatives; to educate the public on their plight and contribute to the gene pool. This was an awful accident, but zoos are hardly a "danger to all humans and animals." Children are at risk daily, and the zoo is no exception. Neither is your local playground, your car, your own dog, your swimming pool, or your staircase.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • maayann

      i would not put a child in danger....and surely this was an accident...not sure what chair heroes means..but if any of my nieces or nephews were in harms ways, any harms way i would fight to my death to keep them alive! Not trying to be a hero, just being real! I would not think twice! Sadly this boy is dead and it's a terrible death for everyone who witnessed it, sadly we can learn from his death and keep our precious children safe!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  2. RKT210

    A two-year old cannot fall from the top of a safety railing unless he were placed there by an adult.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. LizaMom

    Please stop blaming! Some blame mom, others the zoo, some even blame bystanders for not jumping in. Those blaming mom are pretty much preaching to the choir that will be in her head for the rest of her life, I imagine. No one can punish her as much as she will punish herself. Many of you mom-blamers come across as nasty little sanctimonious monsters that offer nothing but high and mighty judgment. So, gee, thanks for the not-so-helpful insight! For those who want to blame the zoo: the world cannot be completely safety-proofed. As some wise person once noted, and I'm paraphrasing, attempts at idiot-proofing always produces better idiots. For those who would blame bystanders: you were not there and you may have some hero wannabe wish and fantasy about what YOU might have done. You also have no idea what kind of animal this is or what they can do in mere moments. For those who want all these dogs killed: that's a stupid knee-jerk reaction. These dogs are endangered and did nothing wrong. This was a horrible tragedy. It's ok to feel sad and angry about it without pointing a finger, you know.

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

      you said it perfect

      November 6, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
    • CA3b

      Wow. You sure have a lot to say. If everyone followed your admonishment, the whole page would be blank, and there'd be nothing but your endless yammering.
      These people making comments have every right to express their opinions. This was not some unforeseen accident. The parent was not careful and placed her child in harm's way, in spite of reasonable safeguards placed by the zoo.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Not some unforeseen accident? I disagree. I don't think anyone saw it coming.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Dot8

      The finger is pointed towards the right direction, the parent should have been a better parent and the zoo should have been a safer zoo by installing a fence in that area.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. ma & pa

    We hope the force of the fall stunned the child so no fear or pain was felt. This happening makes us sick

    November 6, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pookie Adams

    I'd love to see the retirement of the phrase, "our heart goes out to....."

    November 6, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. sympathy

    I'm so shocked to read little sympathy for the little boy named Maddox he has a name. People only want to place blame I think the mom knows it's her fault. As mothers i do not understand no compassion. I pray you never do something stupid that u have to live with

    November 6, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      I get it.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. roland

    Some people cant believe that some people would jump in those are the ones that are afaid of the world sit around doing nothing and thinking they know everything wake up there are real people still in this world if one would have jumped in more would have jumped in but that one was not there

    November 6, 2012 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. Klancy Schmertz

    The victim was identified as 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. adam

    for those of you cowards.that.would.not have jumped in......what good are you to society.

    there's likelyhood you wouldn't running in.a burning building to save a child on the second floor

    i would've jumped in ....i have children.and pray somebody would help them if i wasnt around

    the i don't want to get involved mentality is garbage

    the examiner said the fall didn't.killed the child the dogs did.......i carry a small pocket knife i use at work i guarantee you some dogs would've died maybe me to...don't care...i couldn't live with myself.knowing i saw an.innocent precious child get mauled and i stood like a gd coward

    November 6, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. bob

    Another reason for a CCW license...

    November 6, 2012 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Anon

    Loving the arm-chair heroes here. You can be as brave as you wish standing on your little tower of pride and casting down judgement on the "cowards" who didn't jump into that death trap. I'd like to see how well that bravery holds up when face to face with a pack of predators. Just like the arm-chair super soldiers that shout from the roof-tops that they would have stopped the theater shootings, your words are hollow and without merit.

    A child died, a life was lost, fluff your worthless egos elsewhere.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      I HAVE stopped many...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Really people?

    "All the dogs had physicals in September, which include rabies shots, she said." Oh, thank God, this could have been much worse...

    November 6, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. DEEJ

    The zoo, the zoo, the zoo. Nothing about the stup1d pairent who sat the child on the railing.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. Whizerd67

    It wasn't time that poor child was ACTION.
    There wasn't any from anyone..just ...watching...looking....doing NOTHING.
    Probably yelling things like "HEY!" Or "NOOOO!" or "Get away from him!!!"

    Doesn't matter who or what now.

    Meditations and prayers for all involved and affected.

    ~Blessed Be to all~

    November 6, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Rogue351

      If God is all knowing and all seeing then God mush have knows this was going to happen but did nothing to stop it. So it then must have been gods will. But, none dares asked that is GOD loves us why would he have such a horrible plan for a child ? Praying before or after the fact will have nothing to do with it. It will not bring back the child. Since god never answers the family will get no peace from praying and dwelling on it. Faith, God and Pray are fantasy. Instead of wasting time praying to a god that can do this in the first place, or a good that can let this happen, or maybe even a god that could care less of this happed,. What makes you think it will change anything ? It will not. How about working to make sure it never happens again. However being proactive instead of just saying it is gods way. Sounds like an very easy way for each and every religious person to get out of doing the hard work. It is far to easy to pray. and say its gods will. Republicans say that people are not taking responsibility, well lets start hear. Who is responsible and what is going to be done ?

      November 6, 2012 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Epidi

      Rogue351 – your berating answer to Whizerd67 about prayers & meditation for the family is so uncalled for and tacky as well. Many athiests in these forums would make their points of reason more acceptable if they were reasonable in their delivery and not so belittling to others & their beleif systems. Your hope of changing the world view on religion is, at this point in time, a "fantasy" as well. Your chances of changing that with your current approach is NONE.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  15. roland

    We all had are say let it go this stuff makes the world bad go to bed and pray for the world because we are in trouble

    November 6, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      You don't think that poor woman is in an agony you could never begin to comprehend?
      Stupid things happen, lapses in judgement happen. The fact that you are here being
      dismissive and crass says plenty about you.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
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