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. Joey

    That poor mother! My heart and prayers go out to her on her unspeakable loss. Most parents have had accidents happen that could just have easily ended as tragically.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cp

    Oh, good. The dogs had their rabies shots. So we can rule out rabies as a cause of death? Cause of death should be STUPID MOTHER!!

    November 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • sarah

      This woman needs to go to jail

      November 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • S

      Please do not chastise the parents. They are probably already hurting beyond what you intend with your words. They need support. This was an accident. Period.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      AGAIN, and probably again later, the zoo mentioned rabies shots to assure people that they do their UTMOST to ensure their zoo is safe – RABIES makes animals HIGHLY PRONE TO ATTACKING. So in saying their dogs had rabies shots, they were saying these dogs were acting entirely normally, and not just waiting to eat someone alive.
      Get it now?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Melissa

    That is a horrible thing to say you sicko!

    November 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RR

    He is of the oriental variety... do u really expect anything different?

    November 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ms

      Oh a little boy is dead and all u talk about is variety what is wrong with you?

      November 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 187

    The mother should be charged with child endangerment, there was no reason to put the child on the top of an angled rail. The zoo and the animals did nothing wrong.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      How about a chain leak fence, NOT a railing.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      Much easier for little AND big hands to climb a chain link fence, than railings separated by thin air.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      How about you find a moment out of your busy day to have some compassion for this poor family who has endured the worst tragedy one could ever face?

      November 7, 2012 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. aaavasque

    You should avoid these comments. They are not appropiated. This is a child and his familly is hurting. You are so cruel.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. christopher

    I was a zookeeper for 13 years at the national zoo and I would see every day some adult would put a child on the railing of a dangerous animal enclosure. When the adults were told "Please take the child down, that isn't a safe place to put your kid." The grown up would role their eyes at you or pretend not to hear you.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      What fool puts up a "railing"? What about having a ten feet tall chain leak fence

      November 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Exactly. Ignore the professionals until something goes wrong, then blame the people that warned you. This idiot mother, while I sympathize, is purely to blame. As for the idiot that says "Put a chain link fence up!", all that would do is garner protest from everyone else, INCLUDING the idiots! Besides, chain link fence should never take the place of common sense.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • McH2099

      Yeah.. what George said. How about everyone stay in the safety of their own home, watching videos of these exotic animals on TV. Why even have Zoos? Let those spotted dogs go extinct, they look and smell so much better in 1080P!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Zoo knew the "railing" was not safe and THAT is why they put up also a "safety net" which did not work !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Anyone want to bet that the zoo changes that stupid "railing" exhibit design very quickly !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      The safety net is for keys, cameras, cell phones and other crap people drop. It is not to catch children when stupid parents to dangle their child over it. When is it EVER a good idea to dangle your child over an enclosure with wild animals?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      George, the net is not there for people's safety. It's there to catch things dropped by people into the exhibit (cellphones, sunglasses, TRASH, etc.) The net is not intended to catch a child, but to keep foreign objects out of the animals' enclosure.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Oh, a SAFETY net for camera, cell phones, etc. THAT is why they called it a SAFETY net? PLEASE !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      There is absolutely no doubt but that the zoo will pay dearly in a settlement on this one !!!!! Mother wasn't too sharp, but zoo is going to be reaching very deep into its pocket to pay for their stupid design.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      You still haven't answered the question, Georgie Pie. Move out of your grandmother's basement and quit trolling with your idiot comments.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      This NIK person is just sickeniong. She says the mother "fed the baby to the dogs" !!! NIK, the mother sure has some blame, BUT that does NOT make the zoo innocent by any menas. A design for a dangerous exhibit that provides just a "railng" is ridiculous. For example, what would you think about flying in a plane that just had a "railing" next to you?
      Stop trying to blame only the mother, the kid died a horrorable death PARTLY because of a dumb exhibit design. They will pay so dearly in a settlement for that.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • suethezoo

      sue the zoo? if you an idiot jumps over the bridge you sue the city?

      November 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Oh, I didn't know that the child jumped !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      So sad that the zoo didn't think about a safety net for a child, just one for the safety of the "cute" dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      There's only so much idiot-proofing anyone can do in the world, George. At some point, it becomes an issue of personal responsibility. Frankly, I'm tired of those, "Caution: this coffee is HOT" notices, borne from idiots who sued because they were just too, well, stupid to deal with a cup of coffee.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      The mother was sure not to bright, but the zoo should have a better design than just a railing. It is the dead child we are talking about protecting, not the mother.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      A parent's never-ending job is to keep their child safe in an unsafe world. In this incident, I cannot imagine any jury would find the zoo at fault. It's a tragic thing, and you want to blame the zoo. I don't get that.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Design of posts and railing with chain link fencing attached. Was THAT just too much to ask? Especially since the zoo knew that dumb people do dumb things like put their kid on the railing. Just this simple thing and this innocent child would be alive. Yes, mother is to blame too, but come on zoo just some chain link fencing is all.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Be sure to recommend they put a tall chain link fence up around the Grand Canyon, too. Obscures the view for the sensible among us, but, doggone it, it will keep the less sensible "safer." Get right on that, George!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • johnR

      George, I'm having a hard time seeing your viewpoint. People need to exercise some common sense. Would you ban steak knives in an eatery because someone could use it to stab someone? How about 30 ft tall walls lining sidewalks to keep pedestrians from J-walking? How about liquids should only be taken in by IV because it is possible to choke on them while drinking?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • tba

      George, first, I don't know about you, but I'd find it a lot easier to climb a chain link fence than rails separated by thin air. Next, if they use the term 'safety net', it is for the safety of the animals in the enclosure to keep animals from eating the cellphones and cameras of people trying to take pictures that klutzily drop them. The animals would be having surgery every second day from all the hardware and food-smelling trash that people drop in.
      FINALLY – did you consider all the OTHER idiots that would complain that chain link fencing is blocking their CLEAR VIEW of the animals?? There is just no pleasing everyone.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @George, you need to get a grip on yourself. There are some people that are too stupid to live a long, happy life. The horrible thing in this incident is that a mother's stupidity cost the 2-year old his innocent life in a truly heartbreaking and grisly way. If the fates were just, *she* would have been the one becoming kibbles and bits. Blaming the zoo is faulty reasoning. From your strange point of view, there apparently would be no zoos. Or we'd regress them back to the concrete and chainlink animal prisons of the past. Professional vets and zoo keepers have progressed way beyond that view. Go to a modern zoo someday George. They take great pains to provide as much of a natural environment normally as possible. And they also go to great lengths to keep the mass of incredibly clueless people out of harm's way. The world is a dangerous place George. Wild animals can be very dangerous (squirrel? Not so much. African pack hunters? Very much!) Don't perch your child on a railing above an enclosure of wild pack hunting animals. Go feed the squirrels instead my friend.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. carrieshoward

    how insensitive can on be? hope you are living along with no access to childrens

    November 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. IxNay

    I was hoping that the little boy had died in the fall. I hope it was as they say, only seconds. How horrible.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LB

      I saw a video on YouTube of a much smaller pack hunting and taking down an impala. It was 12 seconds between them catching the impala and ripping it in half. How much softer is a toddler...

      November 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Daisy

    It shouldn't even be possible to get into an exhibit, even by accident! This is horrible.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      They used a "railing" which they obviously didn't think was too good cause they put a safety net behind the "railing" (which didn't work) Put ME on the jury !!!!!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      It wasn't by accident... The idiot mother put her son ON the railing and dangled him in front of a pack of wild dogs. The way I see it, it's child endangerment with tragic results. Idiots like these are why EVERYTHING has warning labels like "Do not put hair dryer in mouth" Seriously? Has the general public become that stupid?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      A more reasonable comparison about the hair dyer would be a manufacturer who designs a hair dyer that has to be used underwater. That would be more like the dangerous exhibit with a "RAILING" !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      So, George, you still haven't answered the question... When is it a good idea to dangle your child 15 feet over an enclosure with wild animals?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Reply to NIK – about the same time that it would be reasonable to put up a "railing" at a dangerous exhibit.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. drinker75

    I feel sorry for everyone that had to witness this. I would be sick. The mother has to live with her horrible choice for the rest of her life. You can't protect stupid people from themselves. I would never put my child in danger the way she did.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • MashaSobaka

      "I would never put my child in danger the way she did." I can all but guarantee you that you would and, if you have a child, already have. Ever turn away to reach for a diaper while the kid is on the changing table? Bend down to grab a box of cereal while your kid is in the grocery cart? Take your eyes off your kid for ten seconds while you're in your own home? Yeah. Everyone loves to criticize, capitalize on the brutal death of a child as an opportunity to say "I am a better human being, look how special I am." Guess what? You're not. Grow up.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Macker

      Diaper changing tables don't usually have 11 hungry wild dogs waiting below.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      You are 100% correct. Idiots like MashaSobaka fail to distinguish the difference between leaving a kid in a shopping cart and dangling him 15 feet over an exhibit packed with wild dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glynette

      The net was meant to catch small items i.e. sunglasses, cameras, etc.. Not falling children!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Reply to Glynette – Than WHY did they call it a "safety" net? What, safety for the cameras, glasses, etc. Please, give me a break !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Because, George, it is for the animals protection... Not for stupid people who want to jump in wild animal exhibits or dangle their kids over a pack of wild dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      REPLY TO NIK – OH, OH, OH, I see now!!! Zoo sure wanted to protect those cute animals with a safety net for them, but where is the safety net for the child? Sorry kid, the dogs cost more than YOU!! Just wait and see how much that kid costs the zoo !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      The safety net for the people is an enclosure to keep a pack of wild dogs from grabbing them. It's a wall over 15 feet high. Works pretty well too, except when dummies ignore warnings and hang babies over the edge.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • drinker75

      I didn't realize a child falling off a changing table was equal to a child standing on a ledge over wild dogs. lol. I have never put either of my children in this type of danger.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Reply to NIK – So, zoo knows that stupid people do stupid things like putting their kids on a railing, and yet the zoo says "Oh, well, dumb people" rather than prevent a child from dying a horrorable death by using something better than a railing.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      @ masha – I promise I would NEVER turn my back on a child on a change table/reaching for cereal/in a grocery cart, when they are hanging 14 feet over a pit filled with meat-eating wild dogs.

      Some dangerous situations are SO OBVIOUS that in a rational human being, you would not believe they could do something like that. The gene pool has become an inch deep.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      George, your are being irrational..or you are a troll trying to stir things up..

      November 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lori paster

    It is not even slightly ok that the police killed one of these beautiful dogs. Animals in zoos do not give their consent to be placed in a zoo nor do they give their word if some person gets too close they won't react as animal insticts of protection call for and kill. At some level, they will find the death is the fault of inappropriate supervision.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Feeling sorry for the dogs is about the LAST thing someone should be thinking.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jaime Lyn

      You are SICK SICK SICK. And clearly not a mother. I agree that with you about animals not having a "voice", but you seriously need to think about what you just wrote.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Sad that the tragedy was compounded by killing a member of this endangered species. The dog was just doing what came naturally. Wish they could have tranquilized it instead.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      You are soooo right. Overruling instinct with stupidity harms us all. Thanks to the stupid decision of that idiot mother, she further endangers an entire species.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      It is just so heart warming that NIK is foremost worried about those nasty dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom

      I am sure you would feel different if it were your child!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Smasher

    Ping Pong, or whatever your name is... You come from a society that doesn't value life in any form. You are a vile human being.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. george

    "No such thing as a fail proof exhibit"????? Well, a ten feet tall chain leak fence sure would seem to have been better. A railing !!!!!! REALLY? A railing !!!!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      So you think it's a good idea to dangle a child over the railing of a dangerous animal exhibit for a better view, huh? People like you are the reason why EVERYTHING has ridiculous warning labels on them, like "Bleach – Do not gargle" No wonder you can't recognize the idiots in the world, you are clearly one.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Something tells me that NIK works for a zoo. Or maybe an insurance company.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      I work for neither. I observe. What I observe right now is someone whose ideal world is a padded room with pureed meals served in a bottle. Common sense and safety are one in the same. You still FAIL to acknowledge that holding your baby over the rails might just have been a BAD idea. The dogs didn't come to the baby, the baby was fed to the dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      No george, I am not a sick puppy. Sick puppies think hanging a baby over the edge of a wild dog exhibit is a good idea. Sick puppies think it's the zoo's fault for a mother's ignorance. Only one sick puppy between us, and it ain't me.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • drinker75

      chain leak fence? oi!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      NIK – What is your answer if the child could ask you, "I know Mom was dumb, but zoo knows people do stupid stuff, why could zoo not have a better design than just a railing?"

      November 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      OK, Drinker75 – very funny !! LOL ! My bad ! Chain LINK.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      George, I'm willing to bet the child's first question would be, "Why did mom hang me over the fence when she knew there were dangerous animals?" Not, "The zoo should take better precautions to protect stupid people"

      November 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Agree with NIK. TIred of it being someone else's job to make sure no one uses a hair dryer in the shower.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Too bad that you think the dead child was stupid. A better design would have protected the child.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      George it is obvious your mind is like a brick wall. No one is saying the dead child is stupid. The mother was stupid for doing that to her kid. The fact that you can't tell the difference proves you are a troll.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      Mom would have just let the kid climb your chain-link fence.

      Can't cure stupidity, no matter how hard you try.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      @ a9ymous

      Thank you! Finally, someone stated the obvious....

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

      George are you a troll or just this incredibly dense? For the last time (God only hopes) the freaking net was not for the safety of the guests it was for the safety of the animals to prevent people from dropping items into the pen the dogs could become sick on. Do you actually think zoos all over the world put up safety nets to catch babies that fall off the railings?

      Should we sue the car maker when the parent mistakenly leaves baby in a hot car and the baby dies?

      This mom made a terrible mistake and is paying a very high and permanent price. I pray for her and don't condemn her like some do because none of us are perfect and any parent who says he/she has never made a mistake is lying. But she stood her toddler on a slanted fence over a 14 foot drop over a pack of carnivores. That was really poor judgement.

      This is not the zoos fault.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Reality99

    Karma will exterminate Ling Cho and the world will be better off.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
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