Boy, 2, dies after fall, dog attack at Pittsburgh zoo

A mother's attempt to give her 2-year-old son a better view of wild African dogs turned into a fatal tragedy after the boy fell into the exhibit and was attacked by a pack of the animals as relatives and bystanders looked on.
Associated Press
Nov 5, 2012


The mother had picked the child up and put him on top of a railing at the edge of a viewing deck at the Pittsburgh Zoo late Sunday morning, Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police said.

"Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the pit, and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs," Kraus said. "It was very horrific."

It's not yet clear whether the boy died from the fall or the attack, said Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Zoo officials at first estimated the boy fell 14 feet, but police said it was 11. It's not clear which is correct.

The Allegheny County medical examiner planned an autopsy Monday, and the boy's name was not expected to be released until that was complete.

Authorities said that zoo staff and then police responded "within minutes," but visitors described that time as being filled with screams for help. 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 had to shoot the animal.

Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said no one he's spoken to can recall any deaths of children at an accredited zoo over the last 40 years or more. Feldman said the Pittsburgh Zoo successfully completed its 5-year review in September, which means it meets or exceeds all safety standards.

Authorities didn't release the name of the woman, but say she is 34 years old and lives in Pleasant Hills, just outside Pittsburgh. The boy's father arrived on the scene soon after the accident, police said.

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

The so-called painted dogs are about as big as medium-sized domestic dogs, and 37 to 80 pounds, according to the zoo. They have large, rounded ears and dark brown circles around their eyes and are considered endangered.

The attack happened in a 1.5 acre exhibit called the Painted Dog Bush Camp that's 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 roughly four-foot railing is located.

In May, some of the dogs crawled under a fence and escaped into a part of the exhibit that's usually closed. The zoo was on lockdown for about an hour as a precaution.

Past fatal attacks at have prompted zoos around the nation to review safety features of their exhibits. In 2007 a tiger jumped over a wall at the San Francisco zoo, killing one visitor and wounding two others. Authorities first said the wall was 18 feet high, but a review found it was just 12 ½ feet.

In September a man jumped off an elevated viewing train at the Bronx Zoo in New York and was severely mauled by tigers.

Kraus said there was nothing to prevent visitors to the painted dog exhibit from jumping into the exhibit area.

Police and the Allegheny County medical examiner's office are investigating, and they haven't yet interviewed the mother and father, who are receiving grief counseling.

Baker said the zoo, which has never had a visitor death, will also investigate. She said no decision has been made yet on the future of the exhibit.




This was an absolutely preventable accident.


The parents are completely at fault


Agree with both comments. How dumb can you be?

Erie Countian

I have seen parents balance their little ones on the railings at the edge of Niagara Falls, and on many precarious overlooks at Yellowstone N.P and other places. Unbelievable! I cannot understand this idiotic behavior and I'm surprised these kind of tragedies don't happen more often. Some parents are completely clueless.


A 2 yr. old loses his balance standing on a handrail? Really? I so want to cuss my head off, but this comment section won't let me.


Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! What mother would do that?! That poor little boy...they should charge that idiotic, stupid mother with killing her child. Stupid and idiotic are the nicest words I can come up with...

nosey rosey

Another animal dies because of human ignorance.


You really just wrote another animal dies because of human ignorance! What about the 2 year old? I got nothing!


Thanks alot Obama


Now, how in the heck is THIS Obama's fault?????


The sad part is that some blood sucking parasitic lawyer will latch on to this and file a lawsuit. In today's society we tend to reward stupidity with big payouts courtesy of the legal system.


KD - usually you and I don't agree on things - this time is different. You are absoltuely right on this one.


Every one of those people who were there and witnessed this should file an a emotional distress lawsuit against that ignorant excuse of a mother. I'll bet not a one of them have had peaceful sleep or thoughts since witnessing that...


a mother and father lost their child! What is wrong with you people that you sit here BEHIND a computer and talk so negatively of that poor woman. Don't you think she knows the mistake she made. It was an accident. A horrible accident that she will have to live with for the rest of her life. My god comfort that family during this impossible time, and may they find peace in the knowledge that the good lord scooped him up to heaven and rescued him immediatley!


I feel bad that she lost her son but what dumbass puts the Kid, 2 year old kid that on a railing....... any loses balance so she obviously wasn't near him..........ok Michael Jackson fan


You're hiding behind a computer yourself mcbmom. Tell ya what, just take out the fuses for the air bags in your car, don't wear a safety belt and drive 100 MPH into a brick building. That would be as smart as putting a 2 yr. old on a hand rail over a wild dog pit. Yes, that 34 yr. old mom will have to live with it. And she should.
2 yr. olds lose their balance all the time. An adult was there to make the decision. It was a bad outcome, but certainly one that did not need to happen.


I stand completely behind my comment. I said it yesterday, and I'll say it again today: she should be charged in that little boy's death. Her stupidity...STUPIDITY...put that little boy on top of a rail that was put in place to keep people BEHIND it for their SAFETY. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know enough not to put my child in such a precarious job is to protect my child and make decisions that are hopefully beneficial to her. Do I feel bad for her that she lost her little boy? Braodly speaking, yes. Do I hope she lives the rest of her life with that image in her head? Damn right I do. Not only did she kill her child, she scarred forever the father and other family members, not to mention the people who WITNESSED the outcome of her idiotic actions and the zookeepers who had to pull dogs off a mangled baby boy, and emergency responders who have to live with the image of that child. And, as someone mentioned earlier, an animal also lost its life due to her idiocy.


I guess that depends on your definition of "immediately". When I first read this story I thought the only saving grace would have been that he died from the fall before being mauled. However, they determined that he survived the fall so his death came from being mauled.

Sitting In The ...

I would hope even this moron would know she messed up and I find it hard to be sympathetic for her when she responsible for this "accident" due to her being a complete idiot. Why didn't he rescue him before he was mauled to death?.


I KIND OF agree with you, however, I wonder why someone can get cited for "endangering a child" because they don't have them strapped into a seat belt, but this woman lets her child stand on a railing with vicious dogs underneath and doesn't get cited. You are right that she will live with it for the rest of her days, but if she gets away with this, then every person who sits in jail because they were stupid and someone died, needs to be released.

Sitting In The ...

They put up the railings to prevent people from falling into the wild dog exhibit, not so your two year old can get a better view. I hope they bring criminal charges against the mother and no this wasn't an accident, an accident would of been if I tripped and fell over the railing. My heart goes out to everyone but the mother.


that mother tried to help her little boy see the animals better and it resulted in a terrible accident..... im thinking you all should pull out your websters and look up the word accident.


I'm thinking you should look up the word "stupidity" mcbmom.

PS. That baby boy got to see the "animals" real up close and personal.


that mother tried to help her little boy see the animals better and it resulted in a terrible accident..... im thinking you all should pull out your websters and look up the word accident.


Many times I have seen parents do stupid things with their children such as tossing a baby in the air. Fortunately, nothing terrible usually happens, but because someone is lucky doesn't mean they are smart. I am sure this Mother didn't intend any harm to come to her child. I don't believe charges should be filed against her. She will be punished for the rest of her life.


i find it funny how everyone will right away blame the parents ! parents make the wrong dcisions everyday ."to error is human "simple slip up that wasnt thought about very well !im sure when she lifted her kid up for a better view ,her intentions were not to feed him to the wild dogs ..My blame would be on a establishment who sjould foresee such dangers knowing the high risk that comes with housing a wild animal ! maybe eliminate the risk of entering ANY enclosure with ANY wild animal all together ! by falling or not >>this is a place that supposed to host a "SAFE" establishment for people to come and enjoy ..where was OSHA and there strict guidlines ? where was the sign at front gate that says " view wild animals at own risk .beware of sudden falls ,animals may eat your children " some of you people are scumbags for such accusations !lets just blame it on obama seems to be the right thing to do


Here we go. Happy lawsuit time to the rescue!
And really? Why blame the parent? BECAUSE she was the one responsible. When 2 yr. olds start telling 34 yr. olds moms what to do, we will have a problem bigger than this malfunction with logic.


OSHA isn't in place to protect against blatant stupidity.


If the mom is in pain now, she'd better get ready for a lot more. This will not go away any time soon in both her mind and the court system.


Bad parenting choices aside, congrats to Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police, a local boy (SHS '87) who seems to be doing well for himself and his community.