Toddler Killed by Pack of Wild Dogs at Pittsburgh Zoo

| by Denise A Justin

On Sunday, November 4, a pack of African Painted Dogs killed a little boy who fell into their exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo. There were 11 dogs in the exhibit and each is about the size of a small German shepherd, zoo officials said.

The toddler was visiting the Pittsburgh zoo with his mother and friends and "fell off an observation deck that's about 14 feet above the exhibit and was killed by the dogs," according to Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

It was not clear whether the child, who was about 3 years old, died from the fall or the attack, Baker said.

"Our emergency teams and our Pittsburgh police responded immediately, but there wasn’t anything that could be done," she added.

"Unfortunately, the dogs were in pack mentality and not responding,” zoo officials stated in a written statement.

The incident occurred at 11:45 a.m. while the zoo was open to the public. Horrified visitors quickly alerted the zoo staff, officials stated.  Zookeepers called off the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building. Veterinarian Department members then shot darts in an effort to scare away the remaining dogs, according to CNN.  

Three more dogs finally were lured away from the child’s body by zookeepers who entered the exhibit, but they could not reach the boy in time to save him.  The last dog was very aggressive and would not come into the building. Police had to shoot the animal, Baker said.

Zoo officials and police are investigating how the child got over the railing, which is about 4-5 feet high, then apparently fell off a mesh barrier and into the exhibit, according to the Associated Press.

The dogs normally live in a 1.5 acre natural-habitat exhibit called the Painted Dog Bush Camp, which is part of the larger African Savanna open-exhibit area. Visitors walk onto a deck that is glassed-in on the sides, but open in front where the railing is located. Visitors can observe the dogs below. The mesh barrier is below the railing. Elephants, lions and other animals can also be viewed in the exhibit.

African Painted Dogs are among the most endangered dog species in the world, with less than 5,000 left in the wild, according to the zoo. The zoo has a breeding program and ten African painted dogs were born there in 2009. The mother died of a ruptured uterus shortly after delivering the litter, zoo officials say. Five of the pups survived

“We’ve had the exhibit up since 2006 and we have not had any issues with the dogs,” Baker told reporters. “This is a tragic accident.”

The Pittsburgh Zoo and the associated PPG Aquarium are closed until further notice, according to CNN. Police and the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office were investigating. Baker said the zoo, which has never had a visitor death, plans an internal investigation, and no decision has been made yet on the future of the exhibit.