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. dumb dogs

    blame the dogs... they are african. they probably deserve it.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Stamps

      Our DNA hasn't evolved significantly in over 100,000 years. I blame you for slowing the evolution of humans.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. JFP

    The MOTHER is the one guilty of murder, not the dogs. She is just as guilty as the mother who leaves a baby in the car on a 100 degree day.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Sasha

      The police should have shot and killed the mother instead of the dog. People like this are so stupid that we need to get them out of the gene pool before they breed again. She also may have done this on purpose in which case she should also be shot and killed.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. ourmortgagestory

    I sympathize for the mother in this tragedy but at the same time I question her logic. Why would she put her child in such a dangerous position!? That is not a freak accident and I'm sorry if this sounds hard considering her loss but that is plain stupidity on her part. I have a son who is turning 2 this month and my heart was broken this morning to read this. As an adult you should know why safety barriers are in place and should do nothing to push those barriers. Now that I think about it... this was not a freak accident... this was negligence.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • KBuckley

      I COMPLETELY agree with you 100%. I was saying the same exact thing yesterday when I read this story...

      November 6, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Ruth

      When my kids were young, I took them to the zoo tons of time. I have always held tightly to their hands and never once I placed them on a railing of any enclosure. No one deserves to lose a child in such a horrific way and she will leave with this guilt for the rest of her life. The family will probably sue the zoo and get lots of money. I bet there are a bunch of sleazy lawyers right now calling the family so they can get the case. The zoo's insurance company will not fight the case because it is cheaper to pay than to go to court and pay the lawyers.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. to the people

    I think you all just need to mind your own business and not worry about other people. yes, what the mother did was dumb and irresponsible and she could have been more safe, but it happens and the zoo shouldnt be blamed for it. Just Saying

    November 6, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Funny you can't see the irony

      You aren't minding your own business – clearly stating your opinion here. I guess you are above your own law?!

      November 6, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • curtis*

      "It happens"? Seriously? You think moms dump their toddlers in wild dog pits every day? "It happens"?!!
      That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!

      November 6, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Because now we (society) has to pay the price for this mother's negligence. You may ask what price, but don't think for a second that the higher cost of operation for the zoo won't be pased on to the consumer or the zoo may fail all together and then society looses another treasure.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. julnor

    And the winners are......the lawyers, as always.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chi

    I agree. They should start by prosecuting the case from the beginning, not the end. The end result was the child being mauled by the dogs, but the start was the irresponsibility and possibly attempted murder by the mother. Who in their right mind just sits their 2yr old on top of bars above an enclosure with animals that might be dangerous? I understand maybe lifting him up a little to let him see the animals, but that should be done BEHIND the bars... they are there for a reason. The zoo shouldn't be held responsible in any way. But I do believe the mother should have her rights revoked to have any more children and to have any other current children removed. She is obviously a hazard to their health and well being and isn't suitable to be called a parent.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • BEAGLE1

      They shouldn't have had to kill the dogs. A tranquilizer should have been used.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Poor dog

    Why did they have to kill the dog? Every zoo has tranquilizer guns? Why the death of a dog that didn't choose to be in a zoo in the first place? I feel sorry for the child and the dog. The mother should be arrested for the child's death, or at the very least child endangerment. Why do the animals always get a bad rap?

    November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • donna mckelvy

      Because police like to shot things....doesnt matter if it is a human target or animal....should have aimed at the mother!!!!She is the one who fed her son to the dogs.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dude

    So if the children didnt die on impact and really no one could be sure of this from a view anyway.. why didnt someone jump over the fence and defend the child with everything they had? Especially the mother of the child. If this was my child I would have been over that fence the instant my child fell over. I dont care if there is a angry, starving lion looking for food. This is disgusting. No one acted? What?

    November 6, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      If you jump in, it would have been an 11 foot drop. You risk injuring yourself and being attacked. Go to youtube and look up the painted dog. These are experienced hunters who have no problem taking out large game, they don't feed off of ground squirrels, they go for water buffalo, gazelles, impalas and antelope. They swarm and corner their prey, they are very good at what they do and are extremely aggressive.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Ruth

      As a mother, I agree 100%, I would have gone after my child, no question about it. There would have been two deaths but for most people losing a child is the closest thing to a death sentence. I know a couple of people who lost their children when they were teenagers or very young and they basically just existed after that. The pain that they live with every day basically stops them from living.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Alyssa

    I watched a Youtube video on these dogs, it was made by National Geographic. Apparently these dogs will attack as a pack, they can take down full grown antelopes and water buffalo. They are very good at hunting and are like a smaller version of the hyena.

    One dog will grab the animal by the face and neck to hold it still while the others go straight for the abdomen and will disembowel the animal while it's still alive. This is probably why they are saying that the boy wasn't savable, "it was clear the child was dead", he probably was immediately attacked and killed in this manner.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. Vanessa Pompa

    The child's ignorant, neglectful mother should be charged with murder. She should get a few years tacked onto her sentence for the dog that was also killed because of her stupidity.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. Barbara

    Mother should be prosecuted for neglect.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Leigh

    Even if she didn't do it 'on purpose,' this sounds like it has ample grounds for a negligent homicide charge for the mother... That child had to be left alone for quite some time to climb zoo railings on his own.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dr. Fricke

    Things can happen in a flash of a moment. Until we know what the Mother was doing (perhaps she was distracted by another kid – perhaps she was in the process of running and reaching for her child, we don't know.) The child's death is her fault – and for the rest of her life she will be haunted by the images and the gravity of what she did. She doesn't need to be shot or arrested for murder (unless, naturally – it was on purpose). But – before you (or I) go crazy – ask yourself how many stupid things you did as a kid that could have really been tragic had something gone wrong? Sometimes horrible things happen.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Roxy

    What do you expect when you put wild animals on display??? Zoos should be a thing of the past by now. I feel more empathy for the animals trapped and displayed for money. If a human is hurt, then learn from it and make change.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. m


    November 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
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