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. Jon McAvoy

    Not raising ANY children EVER!!! Not for me toots!!! Mother should had been more responsible!!! Its called a zoo for a reason not like she took the kid to disneyland!!! She made her bed now she has to lay in it! Tragic for the child but the mother is an idiot!!! Im sorry but thats the truth had she not put that child on the railing and the kid would had still been alive simple as that!!

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

      I feel bad for the kid but not the mother. She made a choice to be reckless and now she's suffering the consequences.

      November 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Georgeisstupid

    Thank goodness natural selection still happens some. We need less stupid people!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Common Sense

    November 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bev McMullan

    I figured that the parent must have lifted the little boy up onto the railing! Some parents don't think before they put their child in danger now a 2 year old has met his death. Can't blame the zoo nor the dogs...the only one to blame is the parent!!!!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Josh

    This is a tragedy, period. The best we can do is to learn from this tragedy so that it never happens again. Don't let this child die in vain.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kim

    You stupid ignorant heartless people. it doesn't matter if the mother made a careless decision or not, an innocent child died a horrible death. What a bunch of heartless in humane jerks!!!!!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. amanda

    How insensitive. I hope you get mauled by some African paint dogs Mr Jon mcavoy.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Yvette

    You truly are a pathetic excuse for a human being. Maybe your gene pool needs thinning out.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Say it ain't so

    Ok so a child dies after getting mauled by a pack of dogs & all people here are doing is pointing fingers, making nasty comments & insulting each other??? Every day, every single day I am reminded of why i'm ashamed of my own race, the human race. With all these catastrophies going around i don't know, at times i feel as if we deserve them.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 13directors

    Now if we could only make you disappear.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tazmom

    @Jon – i'll pray for you – you evidentally do not know Jesus or God – or you wouldn't have made those comments.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jon McAvoy

    Well i wont get mauled because for starters im not an idiot and will never be on a railing where i could fall by "accident" and get mauled by WILD animals! Nor would i risk any childs life by putting them in danger! So that makes me a winner!! Yay for commen sense!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      This woman's conscience will be the worst punishment she could receive

      November 6, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Her child's death will haunt her for the rest of her life

      November 6, 2012 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Stamps

      One more time Rick, just to be clear about your point.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. Clint

    After reading the hateful, mean-spirited posts in reply to this article, I think CNN should use Facebook or some such for posting comments. It's not a perfect solution, but it does minimize these hateful posts when anonymous posts are not permitted.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. D

    God this is horrible. I cannot even imagine the horror to watch your child eaten by dogs. Parents, please, watch your children at all times.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alyssa

    Let's not forget that an innocent toddler was ripped apart while he was still breathing. No child deserves to endure such pain during their final moment here on earth.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
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