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. Melissa

    This is going to sound cold but the only way that child could have fallen into the exhibit was if his mother had him in such a way that he could have. Here's an idea... keep your kid away from the walls. Its not rocket science. These are wild animals and will kill.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. Elena

    I wonder how well fed this animals were? had they attacked the child if there weren't hungry?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Reason

      zoo animals arent fed in order to make them "never hungry"

      November 6, 2012 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Epidi

      Hunger had nothing to do with it. Instinct does. Fight or flight drive is in us as well. You have animals with a pack mentality in an enclosed area with no place to flee if frightened. What do they do? Attack and defend their space & pack from the intuder of course.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Vegas

    Just flat out tragic... My condolences to the family of this poor child.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lizard Lance

    A two year old is entirely dependent upon the good judgment of his/her parents or guardians. In this case, the kid's mother used poor judgment and the kid is dead as a result. Pitiful. We have too many dumb people doing dumb things among us.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kim

    An exploited animal was held prisoner and murdered for acting like an animal, and it is all the fault of the zoo and this worthless child's loser inattentive parents,

    November 6, 2012 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Debby

      Worthless loser? I hope you never make a mistake in life and if you do, I hope you are shown more compassion than you are showing. My heart goes out to the mom and dad who lost their child in this ACCIDENT.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Mila Diane Davis

      "Worthless child"? There is no such thing.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      Whoops, I was waiting for the animal-rights whack-jobs to show up. A little boy is killed, but he's only a human, right? Just garbage compared to the animals that killed him, right? "Poor imprisoned animals"? Cape Hunting Dogs are seriously endangered in the wild, and it's the population of them in zoos that will save the species. But animal rights fanatics operate out of a narrow little rule book. Their precious Peta frees domestic animals from "slavery" by needlessly killing thousands of domestic pets every year (see petakillsanimals.com). The life of that one little boy was worth more than the lives of all the animals in that zoo. But don't say that to an animal-rights nutjob. Quote their leader, Ingrid Newkirk, "The life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect. ... A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."

      November 6, 2012 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. movarth

    You mean nobody was armed and started shooting all the dogs?
    What a shame, this liberal America, that is.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      You're totally right. The wild west was an awesome time in history!

      We can all acknowledge a glut of foolish people, do you honestly think MORE GUNS is going to help that??

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

      Hey, that's just God's will, right?

      November 6, 2012 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. PGH

    "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."

    If it happened within seconds, then why shoot the dog when the child has already died?

    November 6, 2012 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Epidi

      Because it was threatening the people trying to retreive the body. Likely the alpha of the pack. So would you want a child's mauled & mutilated body left for all the public to see? What if it was YOUR child this accident happened to? I am all for the animals & their protection but you mean to tell me you are not going to protect yourself if one is threatening you with injury or death? The word dog in African Dog is misleading. These are similar to our wolves here in the Americas. And I support them and their return to the wild. I bet you're a hoot in the wilderness lol.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Debby

    A mother took her child to the zoo for a day of fun to see the animals. I am sure she loved him more than anything else in the world. She lifted him up to get a better view and like many toddlers have a way of doing–he slipped from her grasp accidentally. She was probably so stunned, so shocked, so paralyzed that the child she loved fell and was being killed all in a matter of seconds..I can't understand anyone judging this poor mother. Your condemnation and ripping apart of this mother is worse to me than wild dogs ripping someone apart. I am sure she will suffer every day for the rest of her life. How dare you be so judgemental. Everyone makes errors..hers just happened to cost her the life of her beloved child but it was a tragic accident!

    November 6, 2012 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      Glad someone feels this way, so sad to see such anger toward someone who is facing
      the ultimate punishment for a momentary lapse in judgement.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. LordofEntropy

    No the child didn't deserve this, but it's obvious it came from parents lacking genes for intelligence or common sense (since this doesn't happen to most people going to the zoo). So ultimately it probably worked out for the best since the unfortunate child would've inherited its parents' obviously deficient genetic makeup and would've come to some terrible end anyway.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jade

    I would like to see better pictures of this exhibit. As of right now, it seems that this child was killed as a direct result of what his parent did to him. It might be a tragedy, but it is a travesty to let the zoo be blamed, and not mention the parent.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. dustinho

    I can't believe nobody jumped over after the kid. Why am I never around these situations? One of the saddest stories I have read. Those dogs arent that big nor are there mouths. I could have easily took on 11 of those things.

    I did youtube a video on those dogs and 5 of them took out a small dear in seconds. Sad to watch thinking of that little boy

    November 6, 2012 at 3:02 am | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      Five dogs took out a "dear" in seconds, and you "could have easily took on 11 of those things"? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

      November 6, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • stokely

      Dustin, perhaps you are never there to save the day in those situations bc you're at home watching TV all day eating Cheetos, dreaming of your future heroics. I'm sure you could now make use of your stellar ninja skills by teaching self-defence lessons to kids or something. You know, being useful/helpful somehow.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. uncle dave

    Tell me why the zookeepers were not allowed to have leathel lead bullets in the rifles shooting darts at the dogs? Several well placed lead bullets could have saved a life. If I was onlooking this scene, and had the handgun that I always carry, I would have done my best to not hit the child, and stop as many animals as possible.
    Concealed carry of firearms by responsible citizens is right to bear arms. And I did vote Obama, because I know he will not take this basic right away. If NY Laws were more correct, a bystander may have played a life saving role.
    This Zoo attack would not happen in my State.
    Check your concealed carry laws of upstanding citizens.

    Uncle Dave

    November 6, 2012 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
    • John W.

      I'm all for the right to keep arms, but you are a total nutjob. Bringing a handgun into a zoo? How about solving the problem another way by having parents learn how to responsibly handle their children (a parent obviously put this poor kid up on the railing). Or ensure that zoo exhibits are designed properly, as this one clearly was not. But here's dopey Uncle Davey who wants to pull out his extended pen–... gun and start blazing away, all the time assuring us that he "would have done his best not to hit the child." Wow.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Amber

      You're delusional if you don't think BO wants to ban hand guns. Where have you been? What do you think the motive was behind Fast and Furious? This is how dictators control the masses...they take away their guns and leave the people with rocks. This poor child. I'm sure the whole scene unravelled very quickly. People do stupid things and get themselves or others killed. It's human nature. Look at the accidents lately in Yosemite or similar places. This is tragic and people SHOULD learn from it, but alas, that's unlikely.

      November 6, 2012 at 5:20 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      Amber: You obviously don't understand anything about Fast and Furious. Please get your news somewhere other than Fox or The Blaze.

      November 6, 2012 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • No

      It wouldn't have helped if every person in the zoo was armed - the dogs were upon him the moment he was within their reach. I highly doubt you could shoot all 11 dogs in time to save him...

      November 6, 2012 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
    • rob brennen

      Better yet, tell me why a 34 year old mother would put her two year old child on top of the railing. My heart breaks for her because if she could only take back that decision. But I have to tell you, we see this all the time in life: People baulk at rules meant to keep them and their children safe. It happens on planes, at amusement parks, etc. Go to a zoo tomorrow and you will see another parent making the same foolish mistake.

      November 6, 2012 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
    • FactChecker

      You must have amazing accuracy with a handgun if you can shoot 12 dogs attacking a child without endangering the child. Or maybe you are just full of it and should keep quiet about your delusions of grandeur.

      November 6, 2012 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Liam McKay

      Great, then you've got 15 or 20 gun toting wackos opening fire in the zoo. Are there any signs that warn parents not to put kids on the raining?

      November 6, 2012 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
  13. Becca

    I prefer no exhibit at all... Leave them in the wild where they belong. And it's a shame they killed the last dog. They could have tranquilized it. It was only doing what came naturally. I feel bad for the family, but the dog shouldn't have paid the ultimate price because humans wanted to profit off them.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. lol

    what a dumb kid. Haha the dogs owned him

    November 6, 2012 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Taylor

      How can you be so cruel? This poor child died and now the family has to deal with this devastation the rest of their lives.
      You must be a warm and fuzzy human being..........

      November 6, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
    • crabman

      hey moron the kid was 2 or 3 i'm sure the kid was smarter than you -some needs to own you

      November 6, 2012 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
  15. Eric Carlson

    CNN, when a child dies how about disabling comments? Looking at how cruel people are makes me sicker than the tragedy does.

    November 6, 2012 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
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