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Feds, police, national group to investigate Pittsburgh zoo

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
African painted dog pups lay in the sun at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Thursday, April 14, 2011.

Federal officials, police and the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums will review Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium's procedures because of the fatal mauling of a 2-year-old Pleasant Hills boy on Sunday by a pack of African painted dogs.

“Right now, we're in shock. Obviously, we want to make sure there's a good investigation for the family,” said Steve Feldman, spokesman for the national zoo group based in Silver Spring, Md.

The association, which evaluates zoos on everything from animal care and welfare to conservation, reaccredited the Pittsburgh Zoo for five years in September. The process includes an on-site visit by three inspectors for three days, and safety is one of the issues they examine.

Neither the association nor the zoo would release the accreditation report.

Feldman said the association requests a report of any such incident at a zoo. He said that report will be released after the investigation by law enforcement.

“It's far too early to talk about what outcome might occur after that,” Feldman said.

Zoo officials said the boy apparently slipped from his 34-year-old mother's arms on a 4-foot-tall wall and tumbled off a 14-foot-tall mesh barrier and into the dogs' enclosure.

City police shot and killed one of the 11 dogs that attacked the youngster.

The zoo was closed.

The Department of Agriculture also will investigate. A spokesman did not return requests for comment.

“We are taking appropriate actions in regard to whom we have to alert, and we will be doing that as soon as possible,” zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray said.

Feldman emphasized the rarity of such attacks.

“Considering that 75 million people visit accredited zoos every year, they have a remarkable safety record,” he said. “This is obviously a terrible, terrible tragedy, but I do want people to know that zoos are safe.”

However, this was not the first fatal accident at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Ten years ago, elephant handler Michael Gatti was crushed to death by an elephant while he was walking it on the grounds.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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