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. Hm!

    Why didn't the police take that so called mom that fed her child to the dogs! Don't they see her cover up! She knew what she was doing! All to look like that was not her plan,but when it was!

    November 6, 2012 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill D.

      You sound as if you believe in was an intentional act. I'm quite certain it was very unintentional. However, one must question the act of placing the toddler on top of a ledge where it's possible for the kid to fall in. The mother lacked any common sense. I feel for her, she has to live with this the rest of her life.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. iyke

    whats all this attacks on each others comments.i think we should focus on the matter at hand.given the situation i dont think it proper to admister blamesathis time,instead why not we reflect on the imotional well fare of the berieved mother,and pray she be consoled

    November 6, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • 123elle

      I am 65 years old. Many of the comments here just reinforce my lifelong impression that some people just have odd minds. They draw bizarre and irrational conclusions from observed events for whatever reason - like thinking the mother was trying to kill her child. That is just an odd way to see this event and not rational. My own mother had an eccentric mind; she was paranoid and believed that people were trying to use her. I knew even as a little girl that there was something not right about her - and I suspected that she kept a lot of her stranger ideas to herself because she knew she was off base. She is 95 now and in a nursing home, rejecting other patients' efforts to make friends. You can't reason with people like that becaue this is a deeply felt emotional view of the world and of their fellow human beings. I don't believe that the mother of the two-year-old purposely killed her child. If you believe that, you have odd mentation and should perhaps talk to a counselor about your ideas.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • JB

      "elle" – Women kill their offspring all the time. What deep insights into this woman's mind have you gleaned from this article? Or, are you as delusional as your mother, defending someone who's actions were negligent at best and criminal at worst? Seems so.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • 123elle

      JB: Whatever makes you think I am "defending" the mother? See,this is what I mean by an odd or eccentric mind, drawing conclusions from facts not in evidence at all. I believe the incident was the result of incompetence and poor judgment - in other words a terrible accident. I do not believe it was child murder, nor do most rational people. Your own overreaction and angry vituperation toward my own post just reinforce my impression that some people have eccentric mental processes.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • 123elle

      JB -one more thing, my own mother would be likely to think of this incident as child murder precisely because she does lean toward paranoia and thinks people are capable of that. This incident is really a litmus test of how people view the motives of others. I tend to think it was an accident; you probably think it was murder. To me, the idea of a mother "hurling" her child to the dogs would mean that the mother was insane, and I think the authorities would be well aware of that and she would be in custody now, which she is not. If you think she was "fooling" or misleading the authorities into believing it was an accident, then you would lean toward thinking like my mother. See?

      November 6, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      @elle....I'm sure JB thinks you were defending the mother because of your comment, " I don't believe that the mother of the two-year-old purposely killed her child. If you believe that, you have odd mentatin and should perhaps talk to a counselor about your ideas."

      November 6, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Hank Hill

    That's just awful, heartbreaking. I took my two year old to a zoo, I can't possibly imagine being the parents coming home without him/her from what was supposed to be a fun family trip.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. karianez

    Well, the fences are there for a reason and it's not to put your child on top of them. I feel sad for the child and sad for the endangered animal...I even feel sad for the mother.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rick

    The mother's own conscience will haunt her until she dies. This will be the worst punishment she could receive.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. jlf

    with an exhibit like this, one where there could be a potential for danger if something unexpected happened... you should always think the worst...what could happen if ....as the article said nothing is safe-proof...unfortunately for the mom, she made the wrong decision not thinking of the consequenses of her actions. my heart goes out to the family and the zoo and the loss of one of the dogs.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Rick

    The mother's own conscience will be the worst punishment she could receive. Her child's death will haunt her until she dies.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Chad

      Assuming she HAS a conscience.
      I assumed that everyone had a conscience, (just as you are now) but when you meet someone who has NONE (not even a molecule of one) like I have, it changes you.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. LTisch

    CNN refuses to say Mom put kid on the railing, which she did. Article asks if zoo is to blame but doesn't ask if parent is to blame.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. William Henry Poole

    How the hell did a 3 year old boy even climb over a fence and then just happens to drop down into a pit of hungry animals? Either that ZOO was clearly not safe or the parent coached that three year old boy into the pit of angry and hungry dogs. Either way, it doesn't make sense and someone should go to jail, simple.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Koji

      She put the child on the fence, negligent at best criminal at worst.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rick

    This will haunt her for the rest of her life.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rick

    Her child's death will haunt her for the rest of her life

    November 6, 2012 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. Amber

    This will not haunt the mother if she was looking for a way to kill off her child. As disgusting as it sounds there are women out there who are not fit to breed. A responsible, protective parent would never let their precious child fall into a zoo exhibit. The mother allowed this to happen. It was no accident. She should be charged with murder. It is the mother's actions that led this child to his death.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      it's the zoo's fault...the animals are dangerous...these are not your run of the mill dogs...the jaw strength is high and kill rate is 80%...there should be no openings in their cages...not even above...zoo negligence...and they higher the pack count member the more effective the kill...

      November 6, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      literally this animal is like a lion in dog's clothing...that why the zookeepers stood back...poor design in the cage...atty need to help this mom sue...anthing greater than 1 dog is pack kill potential...jaws are stronger than any wolves...they can take down a water buffalo...get the picture....humans are on their diet viewed by this animal as large prey!

      November 6, 2012 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      mother's better judgement was probally thrown off by the term "dog" their kill mode ranks up there with the lions, tigers, and bears...zoo officials knew this and left an opening for harm...they should have eliminated any fall potential with that display...zoo director should be arrested...

      November 6, 2012 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      it's not even safe for zoo workers to approach a pack that large...they kill by pinning down and disboweling with the usual throat tear/neck broken. they should not let them pack at all...bouncing baby probally looked like a thrown snack...

      November 6, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ital4ever76

    People are going to be angry naturally. Stupidity angers people especially when it costs a helpless childs life!! I can't deny that I am angry but I am mostly deeply sad for the family and the people that witnessed this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. I am haunted and sickened by this and I only had to read about it. I need therapy and I wasn't even there..

    November 6, 2012 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ash

    Too many people lacking common sense or too busy on the cell phone. People need to wake up and see what's going on around them..can't believe a mom would do that to her child.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  15. USA! USA! USA!

    People really need to learn the difference between "your" and "you're"!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Ztom

      That's you're opinion. Your wrong.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
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