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. zack

    Sad part about this whole thing is??? The Zoo will still get blamed 100%, doesnt matter what happen the Zoo will be at fault. I think this mother is stupid for not protecting a 2 year old better and agree this is no way in any form the Zoo's fault. But again just the way this country is an will always be..It will somehow become the Zoo's problem. Its a shame!!

    November 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. I don't live in pittsburg

    Why was she at this exhibit any way. Those dogs are boring.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      Why does a zoo need to exhibit these dogs? If they are endangered there should be another way to protect them.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. child of midian

    if mom has any sense of wrong and right she'll kill herself. I couldn't live if I did that.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      With a comment like that, I'm not sure you should live anyway.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      Wow, I'm glad you are not queen of the universe. Your stupidity is remarkable. It was a tragic accident. Maybe there could be better protections for the exhibit-but the mother showed a lack of judgement. How many parents when taking their children out of their car in a parking lot see that same kid go zooming off into the aisle? If parents were jailed or committed suicide every time a child jumped into harms way there would be remarkable few parents. Its a horrible tragedy-why do we feel the need to punish someone for something that was totally unintentional? A parent that looses a child due to inattention or to a stupid mistake DO pay for that mistake. Their entire lives will be spent in paying for that.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • norcal

      I second that.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • norcal

      "child of midian" I second YOUR statement" too many replied with stupid comments before mine was stated. :-/

      November 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Laura H. Harris

    I feel that this is such a tragedy that a child should have been placed in harms way! Question for the zoo: Why didn't the zoo have protective plexi-glass barriers between the railings and the enclosure? The glass barriers would not restrict the view and if a parent placed a child on the railing the child could still see the exhibit but not fall forward into the enclosure. Sometimes we as adults have to make informed decisions for the safety of our children. The parent will have to live with this horrible mistake the rest of her life and the zoo should make changes to the exhibits so that this will never happen again! After all, these are wild animals that hunt in packs and attack at will when given a chance. God bless this family and I pray for their loss.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • larry5

      Still, you have to ask the question. How did a 2 year old get over the railing?? What could the mother have been thinking or doing?

      November 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I agree about the plexiglass, i think they should make nets higher than the fence so if someone falls they will roll back into a safe area. like a viewing platform with plexiglass walls.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      There is plexiglass UNDER the railings so little guys can see in the enclosure.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Donna Marn

    I guess not...

    November 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. larry5

    How did a 2 year old get over the railing??? With mommy's help, no doubt.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura H. Harris

      I know the child didn't get up on the railing by itself and it really is sad that parents do not realize that in the "real world" bad things can happen to innocent people. How sad for this family to have to live with this child's horrible death because of a mistake in judgement. -Laura

      November 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      According to other articles the mother placed the child on the railing. He lost his balance and fell.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dtkuy

    This article forgot to mention that the mother put her son on the rail so he would have a better view of the animals. All blame falls on her.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. just my opinion

    how can any of you people blame the animals? and also, the zoo is right, they tried to make it as safe as possible. A 2 year old should have troubles climbing up that rail. The mother probably lifted the kid and dropped him. You guys should blame the mother. Even if she didn't help the kid up, she should have been around to get him down that fence. only the mother is at fault. I wouldn't let my 2 year old climb on zoo cages. that stuff is dangerous. the dogs are definitely not to be blamed. of course they attack, they are wild animals. that is why they are caged and do not run free in the zoo.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JFH67

    This is probably the same mom that would put her 2 year old child on the wall overlooking Niagra Falls and step back to take a picture. Some adults should not be permitted to have children.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • norcal

      joe – absolutely!

      November 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Name*thyra

    MOM SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE PROTECTIVE OF HER LITTLE BOY!! So so sad...It should have never happened, and could have been avoided!!

    November 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Carol Monteverde

    This was definately the parents fault. Not the dogs.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      Exactly. They are WILD ANIMALS who act on instinct. Same as when the KILLER WHALE killed the trainer a few years ago.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rosemarie Ann Sawyer-Corsino

    Take it easy on mom. Children are unpredictable and get away from mom in a split second. I had it happen as well but luckily my child was not harmed. The zoo needs to learn from this accident and possibly post someone at the exhibit with a dart gun to stop a mauling. Protecting the public is paramount and zoos have got to be ready with a rapid response team to protect and rescue people. People need to feel safe at zoos.

    November 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisaspups

      If you had read the article, you would have noticed that the rails are set at a 45 degree angle so the child will hopefully fall away from the exhiit. I doubt he was able to climb up there himself. More than likely, the parent set him up there. Was it stupid and irresponsible? Yes, but that in no way takes away from the pain and loss the family is feeling, so no matter what you think of the actions (or non-actions) of the parent(s), let's show some class with regard to their loss. Also, I am very sorry for the innocent animal that lost his life.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shirely

      Johnny0, if you fall on the street in front of a house because someone didn't shove the snow, who do you blame? yourself or the owner of that house? Same here. The zoo didnot provide adequate protective measure so something like this won't happen – whether it be netting that works, zoo staff members trained and ready to thwart off these situations by standing guard there, better railing with pexiglasses, etc...

      November 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • TC

      Did you pick your child up, plop him on a railing 20 some feet above an enclosure with predators, and then take your hands off him?

      I doubt it.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pig Benis

    See more proof that "god" isn't real!

    November 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • krislankay

      God does not make life rainbows and unicorns. The mother made a choice. A very poor horrible choice. She is 100% responsible for her own child's death. The child is, however, now safe in the arms of God.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pig Benis

      Haha there is no God it's a bunch of shat... Where's the proof oh yeah a book and what about all this other stuff, not found hmmm how convenient and yes it is the mothers fault

      November 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I can tell your a very intelectual fellow, given your name. Respect religion, there are many scientist that believe in it and it helps people to have a sense of fellowship, spend some years studying religions and you will see it more than some dumb belief. I know this for i am skeptical myself, my father has a Masters in theology and i hope that one day I will be able to make an informed decision about my life.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • dude

      to krislankay: why is it only the choice of the mother? what about the choice of the child? I bet when he was being attacked, he felt pain and wanted it to stop... why wasn't his choice being answered?

      November 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • norcal

      God gave all men and women free choice. They choose to do right, they choose to do wrong. Those who choose wroing suffer the consequences for themselves and others. This mother chose wrong. She and her son suffered for it. People who actually READ the bible and know about it – don't have these stupid questions.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brooke

    African Painted Dogs are always considered among the most dangerous exhibits in any zoo. Any mother who would put her child on top of a railing of any zoo animal – especially predators – should have her uterus removed. It's sad that an innocent child had to die, and that an animal that was just doing what nature hardwired it to do, had to die because of one "mother's" stupidity,

    November 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      brooke, you are exactly correct!!!! i feel sorry for the baby and poor dog and after they remove her uturus, the zoo should make her pay retribution for having to put the dog down and the police should charge her for child endamgerment.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sarita

    Point blank, end of story, its the mother's fault!!! She had no business putting a 2yr old child on a railing at a zoo near dangerous animals. I don't care that the railings are supposed to be fall-proof...blablabla whatever they say. The mother clearly has absolutely no common sense and to top it off she placed him on the railing but was not holding onto him...smh as I said, its her fault. My son will be 2 next month and I know for a fact, I damn sure will NEVER put my son next to anything dangerous or place him up high and take my eyes off him even for just a second. Bad parenting now a days accompanied by bad choices and they always want to put the blame on everything else.

    November 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • YourNameHere

      Agree 100%. And now a child and an innocent animal is dead due to her actions.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcos587

      Did the zoo test the netting with various child size and weight mannequins? If not then the designer and zoo director should be fired? Why wasn't a bear type pepper spray and a special dog proof suit similar to but specialized from what police dog trainers use? The mom failed no doubt and she will suffer more on her own. But I have a feeling we will find that the Zoo director failed as well.

      November 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Linda

      the netting was to catch objects accidentally dropped from falling into the enclosure – like cameras, or food – not designed to catch people. what person doesn't realize that a zoo the calibur of Pittsburgh's Zoo houses, cares for and displays WILD animals – what mother removes the protective barrier between her child and any potential threat? the ONLY fault here lies with the mother.

      November 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      I am with you! This was totally irresponsible! And 100% her fault!

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

      100% agree with you! And even if you put your child on the railings. What would a mother instantly react is to save her child by jumping off, could tossed him in the net carefully to avoid the child to bounced back... and this is a food to african painted dog – they are carnivorous.... still my heart goes to the child because of careless judgement of his mother.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • aj

      u r a 100% right

      November 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
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