UPDATED: Child Killed In African Painted Dog Exhibit at Pittsburgh Zoo

The 2-year-old fell into the painted dogs exhibit and was mauled, according to Pittsburgh Police.

UPDATED: A 2-year-old child was killed at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Sunday morning after being mauled when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit.

"It is with heavy hearts we report that a tragic accident occurred this morning at 11:45 a.m. when a young child fell into the African painted dog exhibit area and was killed," the zoo stated on its Facebook page.

"The accident is under investigation by both the Zoo and the Pittsburgh Police Department. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will remain closed until further notice."

The child was with his 34-year-old mother, of Pleasant Hills, at the African painted dogs exhibit when he fell from the top of a platform railing to the ground inside the pit area, according to a statement from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

Police said the child lost his balance after his mother lifted him in a standing position onto the 4-foot-high wooden railing that overlooks the enclosure, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported.

The child was immediately attacked by 11 dogs inside the pen, and was later pronounced dead at the scene as a result of the attack, police said.

Zoo personnel were able to secure 10 of the dogs, but not the final dog due to aggressive and violent behavior, according to the police statement.

When Zone 5 police officers arrived and entered the pit, the dog continued to exhibit extremely aggressive behavior toward the child and the officers, police said.

Both officers fired multiple gunshots and killed the animal, according to the police statement. 

Homicide investigators have interviewed several witnesses and zoo personnel, and the investigation is ongoing, police said. 

They are asking anyone who witnessed this incident to call the Pittsburgh Homicide Unit at (412) 323-7161.

The child's parents are being treated for trauma, according to police.

A news release distributed by zoo officials said keepers cleared seven of the 11 dogs after the child fell into the exhibit, the PG reported.

Darts were shot into the exhibit to scare the dogs away from the child, but "unfortunately, the dogs were in pack mentality and not responding," according to the news release.

African painted dogs are an endangered species, according to the zoo's website.

Earlier this year, the zoo closed when the painted dogs reportedly escaped from their area.

Correction: The child's age is 2; earlier reports listed his age as 3.

Patch will be monitoring developments on this story. Check back for updates.

Natalie Jarnstedt November 05, 2012 at 04:34 PM
When will people follow common sense? Adults and children fall into areas with wild animals, they often get too close to fences, trying to touch wild animals and are grabbed - all the blame cannot go to the zoos, responsibility must be taken by visitors! A 4-foot fence certainly seems sufficient and safe - what people do to circumvent safety is something that should be hammered into them BEFORE anyone enters any such area in a zoo exhibit! It's horrible and disturbing that a child had to die in a gruesome manner, especially traumatic to the parents and onlookers, no doubt!
Julia Farkas November 05, 2012 at 04:44 PM
This terrible tragedy could have been prevented. Zoos are not amusement parks and the railings are there for safety, not as a viewing platform. I can't imagine what the mother is going through but the zoo did absolutely nothing wrong. Michael Jackson did a similar thing when he dangled his baby off a three-story balcony. Why do parents insist on putting their children in danger by lifting them and placing above or on preventative railings and structures. I NEVER lifted my children and placed them on top on railings or structures. Would you put you child on top of a railing over Niagra falls? The parent, not the Zoo, is responsible for this tragedy. I hope the Zoo is not held accountable for this incident for the failure on the parent's part. Again, very tragic situation. I've been to the Pittsburgh zoo several times with my toddlers and putting them on the rail of any exhibit would never cross my mind. It's really common sense. I've lifted my kids up to my eye level, bear hugging them, but never put them on something with a drop on the other side. There is little chance that the child died from the fall. The lower net and the soft earth below would have made it very survivable. 11 painted dogs are as deadly as 6 rabid pit bulls in this situation. They could kill a Zebra or a full grown male human.
James Dale Barrington November 05, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Common sense is an innate governor that can be depended upon most of the time, however, we do a lot of things as a spontaneous gesture or a quick response to a fleeting moment before it's gone. -- Family traditions, and personal idiosyncrasies may accept risky behavior sometimes where common sense would normally rule. - It use to be like a passage-way to fatherhood to see how far I could throw my infant child to an uncle or grandfather within my family. It was like sharing your most prized possession with your best friends. I felt like I was accepted into the family as a father by doing that. - What this mother did with her son was done to me and my sons. -- Tradition is a powerful enabling force for good, and ill, and just plain stupid things we do. Since investigation is still on-going into the tragedy I am going to believe that this mother loved her child as much as we all love our children. She will have to live with this pain for the rest of her life. My heart goes out to her. -- I cringe when my sons do the things I have done, and my father has done and on and on. It's a miracle that I have escaped a different outcome from doing these things, but alas, common sense either prevailed - or I was lucky before adulthood taught me the dangers of some traditions I held - as not worth the chance from the 'pleasure' I would received from doing it. Right now this mother needs our heartfelt concern for her unfathomable loss. I could have easily been in her place.
c November 05, 2012 at 09:00 PM
You have great insight. And I hope the mother comes across your kind (and true) words one day.
Rebecca Dixson November 05, 2012 at 11:52 PM
The last thing this mother needs is everyone pointing fingers at her. I'm sure she is already wondering what if... I couldn't imagine watching my child go threw something like that! We need to pray for this family.. Not accuse them. This mother will pay for this in ways none of you could possibly give her as punishment. And this was an accident. Don't place blame for accidents.


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