The Paw Print
PITTSBURGH, Pa.—Tragedy struck the Pittsburgh Zoo Sunday morning after the death of a toddler who fell into an animal exhibit.
The toddler, who has yet to be identified, tumbled over the safety railing, and after hitting the safety net, he fell into an enclosure of African painted dogs and was mauled to death.
The big question being asked is: should zoo officials have done more to help the boy?
Zoo president Barbara Baker, who is a veterinarian made a statement Monday morning saying, “There were eleven dogs in the exhibit.
The boy was dead within minutes, and there was nothing that could have been done in the little time we had. There was no need to send our staff into harms way at that point.”
Many are disagreeing, saying that if onlookers hadn’t been restrained, and the staff had acted faster, there would have been a chance to save him. Witnesses report that the mother attempted to jump into the enclosure as well to save him, but she was held back by zoo officials and was not permitted to go in after her child.
“If she, or someone at least, could have gotten down in those crucial minutes, he would have been saved,” says one onlooker. It was reported by the medical examiner that the boy did not die from the fall, and this only enrages those that say the staff should have tried to intervene.
“He was still alive, and they stood by,” said another angry witness. “If it had been their son, they would have jumped in right away. But they did nothing.”
Also being brought into question is the railing the child fell over. It has not been made clear whether the mother was holding the child on the railing, or if she sat him on there unsupervised.
The rails are designed to be difficult to place children onto, being slanted at a 45-degree angle in hopes that if someone does lose their balance on the railing, he or she would hopefully fall backwards. However, this was not the case, and many are saying that the zoo should be held responsible for their inadequate safety precautions.
“We do everything we possibly can,” Baker responds. “We evaluate it every single day, but there is no such thing as a fail-proof exhibit.”
Many are agreeing with Baker, saying that it was not the zoo’s fault the child fell over. They say that the mother should never have put her child up there in the first place, let alone allowed him to tumble down. \
“It’s unbelievable,” said one onlooker. “She was careless. Accident or not, she is the one who put her child in danger. And though it’s very sad, and I wish it hadn’t happened, it was her fault and not the zoo’s.”
Because they needed to reach the child, zoo workers attempted to lure the painted dogs into cages. They managed to distract seven of the eleven.
Three of the four resisting had to be subdued forcefully, and one aggressive dog was shot.
This is controversial because painted dogs are among the most endangered species in the world. There are less than 5,000 left in the wild, and “now we’re down another,” says one witness.
Whether or not the appropriate actions were taken, Baker insists that the zoo did everything reasonable to save the child, and that she is proud of her team for doing what they could in the little time they were given.
The zoo reopened today, but the painted dog exhibit will remain closed until further notice.