Sunday's African dogs death not first incident at Pittsburgh zoo

An African Painted Dog yawns at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium in Pittsburgh as he lays in a pile of hay Thursday, March 12, 2009. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

PITTSBURGH A toddler's tragic mauling death by African painted dogs on Sunday was not the first time the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium rain into problems with the same exhibit.

CBS Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA-TV reports that last May, nine dogs escaped by digging out of their main enclosure. They ended up in a backup enclosure where zoo staff quickly corralled them.

Officials told the station the dogs were never out roaming the zoo, but they still took the precaution of moving about 200 visitors into nearby buildings.

african painted dog
An African painted dog
KDKA

The three-year-old boy died this past weekend when he fell about 14 feet off a deck into the African painted dogs exhibit, where the dogs then pounced the boy and mauled him.

Barbara Backer, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, said it is not clear if he died from the fall or the attack. The zoo says it will be closed until further notice.

African painted dogs are rare and endangered animals about the size of small German Shepherd. According to the zoo's website, there are less than 5,500 in existence.

The dogs were first brought into the zoo in 2006, Baker told KDKA-TV.

"It's a hard thing to have the ability to have animals on display and to keep everybody safe - the visitors, the animals," Baker said.

The boy's death is the first time a visitor died at the Pittsburgh zoo in its 114-year history, but it's not the first death. In 2002, a zookeeper was killed when an elephant got spooked. Officials called it an accident.

It's still too early to tell if Sunday's events will bring about any changes at the zoo.

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