PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A child was mauled to death at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Sunday morning after falling into an enclosure.
The child was a 2-year-old boy from Pleasant Hills, Pittsburgh Police said.
Police say the boy’s mother was holding him on the railing, when he lost his balance and fell more than 11 feet into the exhibit housing the zoo’s 11 African painted dogs and was subsequently attacked.
It happened just before noon.
The child was with his 34-year-old mother at the exhibit when the attack happened, the father showed up shortly after.
Both parents are being medicated to deal with the shock, police said.
“It’s been traumatic for everybody,” Pittsburgh Police Lt. Kevin Kraus said at a press conference. “I mean, I can’t imagine the people that were there that witnessed it, to zoo personnel, even to law enforcement and public safety responders … it was very horrific.”
A witness told KDKA that there was a lot of commotion and confusion as to what happened during the mauling. Zoo visitors thought a dog might have gotten loose, but later learned a child had fallen into the exhibit.
“We did see a lot of people running around screaming, but then I heard that someone — a couple people yelling, ‘a kid was in there, a kid was in there,’” one witness said.
Shortly after, zoo employees went into the enclosure and tried to divert the dogs’ attention away from the child, according to Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium President and CEO Barbara Baker.
Zoo employees were successful at getting seven of the dogs out of the exhibit and shot dummy tranquilizer darts at the remaining dogs to scare them.
“The keepers tried everything they could do, they responded immediately when visitors alerted them to the fact that a child was in the yard,” Baker said.
However, one dog did not respond and police then shot and killed it. Baker said that although the zoo cares for the animals, it was the necessary thing to do and that a human life was more important.
“Unfortunately in this situation, very unfortunately in this situation, the dogs were doing what the dogs would normally do,” Baker said. “… they normally are territorial, they’re normally pack animals.”
A witness in the next exhibit also said zoo staff herded visitors into nearby buildings, locking down the area. Visitors were then evacuated from the zoo, building by building.
This is the second incident involving the African painted dogs this year. In May, the Pittsburgh Zoo had to move visitors into nearby buildings after nine of the dogs escaped from their enclosure.
Zoo officials say the death is under investigation by the zoo and Pittsburgh Police. They also say changes will be made to prevent any tragedies like Sunday’s mauling from happening again in the future.
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is closed indefinitely.
Stay with KDKA for more information.
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