Authorities say the attack happened at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday after a mother picked up her child and put him on top of the railing at the edge of the exhibits 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," Kraus said. "It was very horrific," Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police told reporters.
Reports indicate that police responders were on the scene within minutes, but according to the Associated Press, those who were present for the “horrific” event those short minutes were filled with screams for help.
The AP adds that Zookeepers were able to call off seven of the 11 painted dogs. Three more eventually retreated from the child, but the last dog was reportedly aggressive and was shot by police after continuing the attack
While zoo officials are still unsure of what exactly killed the 2-year-old, Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, suggested to reporters that the 14 foot fall was enough to kill the boy alone.
A spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told AP that no one he’s spoken to can recall any deaths of children at an accredited zoo over the last 40 years or more. Furthermore, the Pittsburgh Zoo successfully completed its 5-year review in September, which means it meets or exceeds all safety standards.
As details of the victim and his family are still emerging, several news outlets are reporting that the boy’s mother 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 told reporters.
The Wild African Painted Dogs that filled the exhibit in which they boy fell are reportedly as big as medium-sized domestic dogs and weigh anywhere between 37 to 80 pounds. They have large, rounded ears and dark brown circles around their eyes and are considered endangered.
The AP reports that the attack took place 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.
According to the newswire, 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.
While the recent African Wild Dog attack is certainly a unique situation in American zoo history, it’s not the first fatal attack to happen in the family friendly environment.
n 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.
Police and the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office are currently investigating the recent incident, but 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. No decision has been made yet on the future of the exhibit, according to the AP.