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.

Post by:
Filed under: Animals • Dogs • Pennsylvania • U.S.
soundoff (964 Responses)
  1. d.w.

    The mother should be fed to the dogs... seriously. And the safety net didnt do its job.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • mary

      The safety net was in place for small items like cameras and purses etc. Not in place to catch a small child.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom

      Here is my question: If they had a safety net, they knew that "small objects" might fall into the pit. Had they never seen parents holding up their children? I sure have when we have visited this zoo. It's commonplace. People wait for others to move so that they can hold up their kids. This is just the first kid that fell in. But it's reasonable to say that the zoo knew people might drop "stuff", in this tragic case, a living child.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. HerpDERPliberal

    Lots of deadly and dangerous species seem to come out of Africa.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • treez

      Australia may be worse.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      There are lots of deadly and dangerous species on every continent...and in the ocean too.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kspssd

    I heard they did an autopsy.. Really ??

    November 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      My guess is they are looking for signs that he may have been pushed or dropped into the enclosure.
      As sick as it sounds they have to make sure there aren't any signs the mother or someone else did something intentionally.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      You "heard" they did an autopsy? Where did you hear that? Oh, maybe in the article to which you are responding. They performed an autopsy to determine if the child had died from the fall or from the attack. In case you missed the rest of the article, it was the attack that killed him.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shar

    I as a mother of 3 can by gawdddd guarantee that if my child had fallen down in that pit..........I would have jumped down in there faster than those dogs could have been upon my child. I would have died trying to save my child.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Chicago Mom

      No kidding. I would have been over the fence before my child hit the ground. Of course, I would have never allowed my son to be in such as position. My heart goes out to the family.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustUs3

      SAME HERE!! But, I also would not allow my child to be more than an arms length away or climb on any railings/netting.
      My condolences to the family.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • mom

      I was thinking the same thing!! Lift a car, fight off 11 dogs? I would have been in there like a lunatic going bezerk on those dogs. So scary and heart wrenching...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • justanotherchildofgod

      Why did she have him sitting on that edge? I hate to blame the mother, but seriously? Why would you take such a risk?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mrs Vanessa

      You are 100% correct( The News Report) would have said mother and child was killed by wild dogs..Because no way I could live with myself knowing I put my child in harms way and did not do everything I could to save him/her.

      Very sad

      November 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cynic

      Great that you all have 20/20 hindsight. I'm sure that you would NOT have jumped in right after your child. You would have froze there watching in horror.

      May God forgive that poor mother, because I am sure that she will never forgive herself!

      November 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Navyvet8192

    My heart truly goes out to the family in this tragedy. With that being said, there is no adequate protection available for inattentive parenting. I have 2 kids, and when they were in their terrible 2's we often took them to zoo's waterparks, and the like. One of us always had our eyes on them, and when one of us were going to do something out of sight, we would ask the other one if they had the kids. It is tragic, but happens all to often.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pete

    I'd really like the police to explain why they felt that they had to access the scene. It's a zoo exhibit of wild animals, so wouldn't one expect the animals to behave in a wild manner? Therefore, why should we as humans overrule that for our own sake?

    November 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elias

      Why should we as humans overrule a wild animal's nature and keep it caged at a zoo in the first place? The police probably needed to recover the child's body, and you know stop the wild animals from eating it.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • juanjohn

      why did police need access? Really? How about in order to retrieve the pathetic little broken body that was in there? Or would you rather they just left him to be consumed by the dogs? Ya'know...nature and all...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @Pete. Really, are you that unbelievably dense? You make me sick to my stomach you twisted excuse for a human being. The child's body was still in there with the wild dogs. Your compassion/humanity switch is very broken.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. streamingmimi

    I worked at an aquarium several years ago, and we had a special exhibit featuring sharks-black tips, white tips, lemon, nurse, all kinds of smaller sharks. We had many safety features in place but that did not stop a father from lifting up his 6 year old son to stand on his shoulders so he could reach over the top of the black tip shark exhibit. And yes, the boy was bit on the hand. Wake up parents!

    November 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. smako

    We have laws upon laws that are designed to do nothing more than protect people from their own stupidity or the stupidity of others. Most basic of all is the cross walk. You Know you shouldn't run people over, law and plain manners dictate that. Yet people are still run down in cross walks. Stupid is. That's all you need to say Forrest.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kathy Lepage

    I agree with Lynn.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dude

    We are all human and fallible. A moment of misjudgment, miscalculation, or inattention at the wrong time can have the most severe consequences. This is a very sad and tragic accident. Condolences go to the family.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NorCalMojo

    Do people really think they could shoot 11 dogs without hitting the baby?

    Think about it.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kelsie

    I am wondering if people at the Zoo (fellow visitors) held the mother back from trying to get to her son?

    Either way, I can't imagine the pain and remorse she is feeling. In an instant, her afternoon changed from innocent to terrrifying. She has to live with this the rest of her life.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Croner

    The mother put him up there on the ledge to see better, according to the first report. Doesn't she have any brains?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. moving33

    when a baby can fall into a group of wild dogs to be eaten, it is obvious that the containment of these wild dogs was designed wrong!!!!

    November 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cynic

      You cannot build a containment that can account for every act of poor judgment.

      This is not a 0% risk-free world.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The dogs never left their enclosure. Containment was effective.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Name*Marisa Salazar

    My heart goes out to the family, the zoo needs to take responsibility for not securing the railing. Keep your children close to you.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick 24

      Yeah, the railing was perfectly secure. Letting your kid stand on the top corner of a 45* angled ledge is the non-secure thing.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barbi53

      Sorry...No child should ever be placed on a railing to observe wild animals...put the responsibility of the child's safety squarely where it belongs: on the parent. We do not even know for certain that this was not some intentional act on the part of the parent. The zoo took reasonable precautions to allow visitors to view the animals in their "habitat" and will undoubtedly be forced to change the way the animals are viewed...if they can be at all.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deborah Briggs

      The zoo can't possibly safeguard against irresponsible patrons. What kind of parent places their 2 year old infant on top of a safety railing? An irresponsible one.
      Unless it can be proved that there was something wrong with that railing the zoo is not at fault here.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shuffler

      The zoo failed to post a sign that says no stupid people allowed. Of course then they would have to hire folks to read it to the stupid and then explain what it means. The so called mom in this story is truely a moron.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • areyouserious?

      How can you possibly say this is the zoo's fault? You go to the zoo to see WILD animals in a safe environment. The dogs didnt break out of their enclosure. This "mother" placed her child on the railing which is not permitted. She might as well have thrown her kid in there and rang the dinner bell. This wasnt a cage filled with golden retriever puppies.
      I'm sad that this poor child lost his life in such an awful way, and I'm also sad that they had to put down one of the dogs who was just following its natural instinct.. Both of these are the mother's fault.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jaime Jimenez

      Yes it is sad what occured, but when did parents not become responsible for securing their children as awful a tradgedy this is blame the parent not the zoo.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrLowe

      "2 year-old boy ignores CAUTION signs, climbs tall 45-degree railing, and throws himself to 11 African Painted Dogs"

      ...not likely.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • michelle

      I am a mother and if my child were still 2 years old, I can guarantee you that I would not have let my child sit on the railing alone. This child fell because his mother wasn't hanging on to him...protectively, like a mother should. That woman was negligent in leaving her child to sit on a railing at the exhibit of wild dogs???? Give me a freaking break! It is not the zoo's fault. It is indeed the mother's fault. Being a mother, I feel I can say that.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • NY Veterinarian

      The Zoo bears absolutely NO RESPONSIBILITY for this needless death. THE MOTHER BEARS 100% RESPONSIBILITY!! She made a stupid decision to hoist her child up and over the protective railing!! This tragedy would not have happened if the mother didn't cause it!!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom

      She didn't SIT the child on the railing, she STOOD him on the railing, holding onto his ankles. No wonder he fell.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • rose

      no, it is the mother's fault for placing her child up on the rail. period.I feel sorry for her loss but placing blame on the zoo is not the answer.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • faye62

      How could this have happened?

      November 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27