A 3-year-old boy was visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium with his mother on Sunday, November 4, when he fell into the African painted dogs gated exhibit, where he was attacked by the animals. The boy suffered fatal injuries.
His 34-year-old mother, who remains unidentified, had placed the boy on top of the railing, for a better view of the animals, NBC News writes. The family lives in Pleasant Hills, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.
The child tumbled 11 feet (3.4 meters) down into the dogs' enclosure. It is unclear at this point whether or not the death was caused by the fall or the attack that followed.
Visitors at the zoo weren't able to spot the child falling in the dogs' facility, but those who witnesses the mauling that followed immediately asked for help from attendants.
“The screams just kept coming and coming: 'Someone help. Someone has to do something,'” 20-year-old Angela Cinti, a witness to the event, said.
Pittsburgh Zoo President and CEO Barbara Baker confirmed that there was indeed an animal attack. An investigation is on its way to determine whether or not the dogs killed the boy, or he was already in bad shape when he reached them.
Of the 11 dogs in the enclosure, most were scared away by zookeepers that were quick to respond, but one remained, not wanting to let go of his prey. The animal had to be shot by a Pittsburgh police officer.
African painted dogs, or African wild dogs, Cape hunting dogs, spotted dogs, or painted wolves are 24 to 30 inches (60-76 cm) high, the average size of a domestic dog. This endangered species can weigh between 37 and 80 pounds (17-37 kg).
African painted dogs are not a fixture in zoos, this being only the second litter of spotted pups to be raised in a zoo environment.