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. dude

    going back the gun control issue - if every visitor at the time had a gun with him/her, could they have saved the child by killing the dogs?

    November 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      How many of them do you think would have shot the child by mistake in the melee? Dead by dog, dead by guns, still dead

      November 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • dude

      thank you moody2. sorry I forgot to add the (*sarcastically) mark to my original post.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      Oh that's good. Let's see – you hear shots being fired and people screaming, so you pull out your gun and shoot the first person you see with a gun. Then you realize EVERYONE has a gun and soon everyone is aiming at each other. Yeah, well, I guess that will help get rid of parents who obviously don't understand what barriers are for...

      November 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • YourNameHere


      November 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Zoo visitors with guns? Are you serious?

      November 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • nikestha

      dude those dogs have extreme jaw power ,just a bite to the throat or back of the neck can kill instant there was no hope saving that child with gunfire.and those dogs are natural killers..
      RIP for that child ..

      November 7, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. dude

    i also think it is a bad idea for indy zoo to put up a glass panel between visitors and tigers.

    November 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Brianna

    Its the parents fault for putting the child on the railing. Not the DOGS.. they are wild animals they eat meat so when meat falls into there enclosure what are they going to do? ......Why the heck would you put your child up were they could possibly fall into an enclosure.

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

    Yeah sure let's not pay attention to the awful mother and blame the zoo!

    November 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Laurie

    How about the parents don't do stupid things. Those of us that follow the rules don't want obstructed views. Common sense plays a big role in this – stay off the rails.

    November 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Katie

    How about we teach parents how to take care of their children, and we teach everyone how to take responsibility for their own actions?

    November 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. YourNameHere

    Since this has never happened before, and the child was only 2 years old, I cannot help but wonder if a parent put him up closer to the railing so he could see the dogs. Also, I find it unfortunate that they chose to kill the one dog rather than using a tranquilizing gun. Sad...

    November 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BM

    Honestly, we have done animals a lot of injustice. One you bring them from their wild and enclose them in limited space. Two you start playing with them like as if they are humans. Leave this animals where they belong: Africa and stop flying animals to the US to feed them. why cant you fly in suffering kids who cant afford a meal? Wild dogs are wild dogs and you come closer, you are just a piece of meat.

    November 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Name* dcp149

    Do yall think if one person wouldve junped in that others wouldve tried to help. Prayer goes out to the family

    November 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • kyser13th

      Nope, because the dogs most likely would've attacked the person trying to help. This is a sad story, but the idiot Mother is to blame here as horrible as it sounds.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Icannotbelieveit

      Why didn't the mother jump in? I have no idea how you stand there while your child is being eaten by dogs.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Name* dcp149

    Why dont they just build Disneyland and Disneyworld every where so things like this dont happen. Because the zoo in San Antonio Texas is horrible...No animals. Half of them look like they havent ate in months.. If a kid fell, he wouldnt even bother...not being harsh just saying...prayers go out to family...sorry for ur lost......

    November 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AnnieM

    Yes, the mother made a dreadful mistake, and she will have to carry the memories and the guilt for the rest of her life. However, hateful remarks and threats of violence don't solve any problems. Every human on the face of the earth has made stupid mistakes. Some resulted in horrific consequences...and others went undetected. Treat others the way you'd want to be treated if your stupid mistakes made national news.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ms

    It's plain and simple it's the mothers fault for being an irresponsible parent

    November 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Andrew Stewart

    I hope the mother never recovers from this tragic lapse of judgment! Because of her horrible decision not only is an innocent child dead but also an animal who was only acting on its instincts! I sure do hope she is forcibly sterilized to keep any possible future kin safe! Mom of the year award for her!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. epetrillimassey

    Some years ago, I volunteered at the Pittsburgh Zoo and the mother is from near my former home. This is a tragedy in so many ways, but especially for the zoo which has served as such a wonderful and educational attraction in the area for so long. As part of the learning program for volunteers, the keeper demonstrated how quickly these passive looking animals could turn deadly. He threw a sturdy box into the lion enclosure, which the lion promptly ripped to shreds. People need to remember that these are wild animals, captured for our edification. In some cases, zoos also help preserve and propagate endangered species as was the case with these animals. Being in an enclosure does not diminish their power. Our class heard the story of a veterinarian who walked into a Snow Leopard enclosure.The animal weighed about 90 pounds. The Snow Leopard leaped onto the woman and instantly snapped her spine. The toddler in this instance was probably crying and the mother screaming, which would threaten the animals and put them into an aggressive attack mode. I don't feel the need to condemn a horribly grieving mother, who will have nightmares of this moment for years to come. She is already in her own private hell. My prayers go out to the family and the region.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Billy Schlatter

    If only the mother had a handgun with her! She could had jumped in there and shot those wild animals in the face before they killed the innocent child! Carry a handgun people you never know when you will need it! If it was not for Obama then she would had been able to get a gun, with all the anti-gun laws he has passed I bet more people would had been loaded at the zoo and could had stopped those animals!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      You are absolutely ridiculously ill-informed and foolish. Obama's fault? Really? And how insane are you to think that 11 attacking animals could've been taken down before harming, and most likely killing, the child? Do you have any idea how quickly all of this would've happened? Do you really think the reaction time needed to save the child was even humanly possible? How would the child have not been shot in the process? People like you are truly frightening.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raist

      You're an idiot, turning a story about a tragedy into a gripe about Obama and gun control. Well, you see Obama in that light, tell us all about all the anti gun laws that Obama has signed then?? I'll save you the time.. the answer is none. Zero. Nada. Not even one.
      Beyond that, you ignorant fool, how many people do you think could take out those 11 rapidly moving targets with a pistol without injuring that child?? I'll answer again for your dumb donkey, far less than 1% of the world population.

      November 6, 2012 at 9:22 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