Wild dogs kill boy (2) at Pittsburgh zoo

Mon, Nov 5, 2012, 00:00

A two-year-old boy visiting  a zoo in the US city of Pittsburgh was killed yesterday when he fell off a railing into an enclosure housing a pack of African painted dogs.

The boy was visiting the zoo with his 34-year-old mother, who had stood him on the railing for a better view of the dogs.

The child fell into the exhibit and the 11-strong pack of dogs pounced on him and mauled him. Police do not know whether the boy died from the four metre fall or from the attack.

Authorities have not released the names of the boy or his mother. She lives just outside Pittsburgh. Police said the boy’s father arrived soon after the incident.

Lieutenant Kevin Kraus, of the Pittsburgh police, said the incident happened at about 11.45am after the mother picked the child up and put him on top of a railing at the edge of a viewing deck. “Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the pit, and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs,” he said. “It was very horrific.”

Authorities said zoo staff and police responded “within minutes".

Zookeepers called off some of the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building. Three more eventually were drawn away from the child, but the last dog was aggressive and police shot it.

Experts said the death is highly unusual.

Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said he does not know of  any deaths of children at an accredited zoo over the last 40 years or more. Mr Feldman said the Pittsburgh zoo successfully completed its five-year review in September, which means it meets or exceeds all safety standards.

The zoo was immediately closed and it is not clear when it will reopen, authorities said.

The attack happened in a 1.5 acre exhibit called the Painted Dog Bush Camp that is part of a larger open area where elephants, lions and other animals can be seen. Visitors walk onto a deck that is glassed on the sides, but open in front where the railing is located.

Mr Kraus said there was nothing to prevent visitors jumping into the exhibit area.

Police and the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office are investigating but have not yet interviewed the mother or father, who are receiving grief counselling.

Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, said the attraction, which has never had a visitor death, will also investigate. No decision has been made yet on the future of the exhibit.

The Latin name of the species, Lycaon pictus, means "painted wolf-like animal".

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