PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Officials say a young child died after falling into an exhibit at the Pittsburgh zoo and being mauled by African painted dogs.
Tracy Gray of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium said the accident happened at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday. It's not clear whether the child died from the fall or the attack.
Zoo president and CEO Barbara Baker says the boy, who was about 3 years old, fell about 14 feet over a wooden railing and into the exhibit. She says there were 11 dogs in the enclosure and some attacked the child.
Baker said the dogs, which are territorial by nature, went into a pack mentality and attacked the boy.
There were reports the boy's mother was holding him over the 5-foot railing so he could get a better look when she accidently dropped him.
The dogs were eventually moved from the exhibit, with the exception of one, which had to be shot by a police officer after it continued to “be aggressive” to the boy, said said Barbara Baker, director of the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Baker said the zoo initially declared a "code blue," which means there has been an accident involving a human. That was followed with a "code red," meaning that there was a serious human emergency. The zoo was evacuated building by building as a precaution.
The zoo says that the animals are about as big as medium-sized domestic dogs, two to 2½ feet high and 37 to 80 pounds. They are considered endangered.
Learn more about the animals on the zoo's website.
The zoo released a statement on the incident on Sunday afternoon:
"It is with heavy hearts we report that a tragic accident occurred Sunday at 11:45 a.m. when a young child fell into the African painted dog exhibit area and was killed.
Visitors alerted staff who immediately responded to the situation. A painted dog keeper was able to get 4 of the 11 dogs off exhibit when the first call went out that a child had fallen into the exhibit. Upon responding, a representative of the Veterinarian Department shot darts in
to the exhibit to scare away the dogs. Unfortunately the dogs were in pack mentality and not responding.
At the same time keepers attempted to enter the yard to lure the dogs away but were unable to reach the child. Keepers along with Pittsburgh Police continued to lure the dogs away however; one aggressive dog was shot and killed by an officer.
The accident is under investigation by both the Zoo and the Pittsburgh Police Department. The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium will remain closed until further notice."