PITTSBURGH — 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.
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.