The head of the Pittsburgh Zoo says a medical examiner has concluded that a toddler who fell into an African painted dog exhibit Sunday was killed by the animals, not by the fall.
Barbara Baker, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, said she received that information from the medical examiner's office Monday.
Officials say the child's mother had placed the three-year-old boy on a wooden rail above the exhibit. There is a net below the rail, but Baker says the boy bounced off it and into the enclosure 14 feet below.
She says the animals attacked the child so quickly that by the time a veterinarian and other zoo staffers arrived seconds later, they determined it would have been futile to try to rescue the child.
"From what I understand, what occurred at that scene until it was secured, it was horrific," Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police told CBS affiliate KDKA.
KDKA in reports the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium says it will be closed until further notice.
Witnesses and officials described a chaotic scene. When the boy fell, other visitors immediately told staff members, who responded along with Pittsburgh police. Zookeepers called off the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building. Three more eventually were drawn away from the boy, but the last dog wouldn't come into the building, and police had to shoot him, Baker told the station.
The dogs are about as big as medium-sized domestic dogs, 2 to 2.5 feet high and 37 to 80 pounds, according to the zoo. African wild dogs are also known as cape hunting dogs, spotted dogs, and painted wolves. They have large, rounded ears and dark brown circles around their eyes and are considered endangered.
Police and the Allegheny County medical examiner's office were investigating. Baker said the zoo, which has never had a visitor death, plans an internal investigation, and no decision has been made yet on the future of the exhibit.
The dogs normally live in a 1.5-acre exhibit called the Painted Dog Bush Camp that's part of a larger open area called the African Savanna, where elephants, lions and other animals can be seen.
In May, some of the dogs crawled under a fence and escaped into a part of the exhibit that's usually closed. The zoo was on lockdown for about an hour as a precaution.
Ten African painted dogs were born at the zoo in 2009, and their mother died of a ruptured uterus shortly after delivering the litter. Five of the pups survived. The mortality rate for painted pups is 50 percent, even when born in the wild to a healthy mother.
It was only the second litter to be hand-raised in captivity, along with one in the United Kingdom, zoo officials said at the time.