Thursday, November 8, 2012

Toddler Killed at Pittsburg Zoo by African Dogs

I am really behind on many posts, but this recent event is relevant to many things I post about.

I will lead with a paragraph from this article

> "A 2-year-old boy visiting the Pittsburgh zoo was killed Sunday morning when he fell off a railing that his mother had put him on top of to view a pack of African painted dogs, who pounced on the child and mauled him, police said." <

When I first read this, my immediate thoughts went to misbehavior I see at the Zoo (SFZoo).  Specifically the new Anteater exhibit came to mind.  I have given the Zoo kudos for the exhibit, but I have also raised issue in many posts in regards to Angelo (Anteater) being so vulnerable to Visitors.  I've noted how people lean, lay, stand on the barrier.  There of course are no signs not to, which doesn't always stop people, but is an added way to deter such actions.  There are such signs at the Asian Rhino, yet people still prop their kids on the barrier.  In any case, when the Zoo renovated the exhibit next to Angelo's for Inti the Bobcat, they of course had to put of a "fencing" because of the type of Animal he is, but additionally they have put up metal police style barriers, adding plants and bamboo barriers as well.  Where are Angelo's protective barriers?  No where that's where!

I have witnessed countless instances where Visitors are breaching barriers.  You don't have to jump a barrier to breach it.  Barriers are just that.  They are meant to be a wall between you and the Animals.  They are not meant to be stood on, sat on, ect.  I am not insensitive to the tragedy this is for this Family, but for the purpose of my post, I must point out the cause of this tragedy.

I am in a constant stupefied awe (among other emotions) at the things I witness people do.  That said, in relation to breaching barriers at Zoo's, I am in fear for the Animals.  I fear their safety from people gesturing towards them, heckling them, throwing objects into their home, and yes, even entering their home, whether voluntarily or by accident.  For the sake of this post I will concentrate on accidentally. 

Another quote from the article:

> "When the boy fell, other visitors immediately told staff members, who responded along with Pittsburgh police. Zookeepers called off some of the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building. Three more eventually were drawn away from the child, but the last dog was aggressive and police had to shoot the animal, officials say."<

This is one of my fears when Visitors misbehave and it involves contact with an Animal.  The Animals are in jeopardy of losing their lives.  In regards to our Tatiana (Tiger), she lost her life because of Visitor misbehavior.  I could write more on that, but have already (search on  Thankfully our Grizzly Sisters didn't meet the same fate when someone entered their enclosure BUT if they had not backed down, they would have been shot.  In my opinion no Animal should be killed as the result of misbehavior on the part of a Human.  But, that's just me.

A more recent article had some quotes I had thoughts on.

>"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."<

I have maintained from the point of the Tiger event, that you can't safeguard every aspect of deviance in a person's mind.  That reflected the misbehavior of the Visitors that caused the Tiger event.  That said, since then, more stringent precautions should be in place in all Zoo's to prevent and deter.  Unfortunately that requires changing the rules of how barriers are designed.  With that I mean how they are designed to keep Visitors OUT!  ... In this instance, sure, the Zoo could have put up a better barrier, but the Zoo is not at fault for not doing so.  There was a sufficient barrier in place to keep the Animals IN.  The Zoo did their job.  The rest is up to the Visitor.

I will also not that I think the AZA needs to have a better system in place.  Not only can they walk the grounds of the SFZoo (and others I'm sure) and note breach-able exhibits, but from personal experience, they can't always believe what they see and are told from scheduled inspections.  My friend Lee reported someone who breached the barrier at Bears and the events that followed included both she and I getting blamed for calling in a false alarm and getting our Memberships revoked.  It is my opinion that with the Zoo's upcoming AZA inspection for safety that we were used as scapegoats to hide their Security pitfalls.  (

> "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."<  

I'm sorry, but this is just plain stupidity.  In the light of such a tragic event I hate to simplify things, but I must. 

> “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.” <

Of course Zoo's are safe.  Its the People who create unsafe situations.  Stupidity and Evilness seem to be an epidemic and in the case of what I'm most passionate about, its the Animals who end up suffering.  I apologize if in respect to this situation sounds awful and insensitive, I don't mean it to be.  I am pointing out that this type of misbehavior (barrier breaching) whether based on stupidity or evilness,  is not isolated.  Something needs to be done about deterring and educating people to behave in a manner proper to the environment they choose to enter.  In this case its a Zoo.  A place where wild Animals live.  

I have blogged about how the San Francisco Zoo in my opinion drops the ball in regards to Education, which is a word they use in their Mission Statement.  There is little to none in regards of educating people (from gate paying Adult, Zoo Camp Children, even Members) about how to respect the Animals that live in the Zoo.  A message that would also extend to how Animals are treated in general.  I spend most of my time outside the house in places where Animals live.  There is a constant (daily) stream of people misbehaving around and towards Animals.  I am in the process of re-working a blog dedicated to this subject.  There are so many aspects of disrespect/misbehavior its been hard to make it solid.

Recently I noted in a blog post that I thought glass barriers should be at every exhibit in every Zoo.  Sure I would love to see all Animals in open air exhibits, but with the misbehavior I have witnessed over the years, I fear for the Animals safety constantly.  You are probably wondering how an event like this has turned my focus to Animal safety.  Before I continue with that, I want to note that in my opinion, the "open air" style of exhibits, is only Visitor perception   From the Animal side, they are still in open air, they barrier protecting them is just more solid.

In regards to this particular event, all I can say is, I'm not surprised.  Of course this is a tragedy for this Family, but hopefully a wake-up call for not only others who do this very thing when visiting Zoo's, but for Zoo's to really think about how to educate Visitors on behavior AND how exhibits are now designed and changed to reflect this epidemic of misbehavior, to not only deter this type of behavior, but to make their Animals less vulnerable to Visitors, which keeps both Animals and Human safe.

I find it disappointing and upsetting to constantly see Animals a target for misbehavior, whether its verbal or physical.  To me its a form of Bullying.  As I mentioned, many of my blog posts contain multiple suggestions and pleas to the San Francisco Zoo to have more Education, more Signs, install Video Messages, but up better barriers, have their Docents/Volunteers spreading the Message of Respect, but to no avail, you barely see or hear anything of the such.  What you do see is continued disrespect toward the Animals and their homes.  I've only seen answer to this call to action a few times.  Once was after the Grizzly Bear incident, another was when they hired Terry Maple as their touted new "Visionist".

I do not understand why there is such a Zoo wide slack on something that is so important.  Safety.  The safety of the Animals who live there (which takes the back seat) and the Visitors (who create the unsafe instances themselves).  I noted the Tiger event in which I have never held the Zoo accountable.  Until then I hadn't thought anything of the way exhibits were designed.  I still don't believe there is anything that could have changed the outcome of that event other than Visitors behaving properly.  It is only in hindsight of that incident and my subsequent sensitivity to people acting the fool, have I formed a more stringent thought process to how Zoo's should handle barriers, security and putting forth the message of respect.

In all the blogging I do in regard to the Zoo, the main thing that is the common catalyst is that I want what's best for the Animals.  Not only in our Zoo, but all Zoo's.  Not only in Zoo's but for all Animals.  Disrespect of Animals hurts my heart.

That all said, I have also said in a few fantastical manners how I should be running the Zoo.  I'm sure those who are actually running the Zoo are laughing at the very thought, but I will say this, I have written in posts both suggestions and critiques and many of those have come to fruition at the Zoo.  My words have changed some things, so I'm not full of BS as some within the walls think.  With my blogs and other online outlets, at one time, I was doing more Social Networking than any Zoo Employee.  It was fueled by my passion to endear others to the Zoo to help it thrive in the wake of the negativity surrounding the Tiger event.  With the joy I got from watching the Animals have fun, I (along with my friend Lee) learned about Enrichment and made Toys every weekend for most of 2010 so the Animals could have some fun.  We did this when Staffers who job it was to do so, did not (and still do not).  I have made suggestions in regard to Animal safety, when Staffers turned a blind eye to things or didn't have the "cells" to notice.  The Zoo has a payroll of people who should being handling (thinking) and they obviously don't.  They had to hire a "Visionist" to tell them there should be glass at the Gorillas.  Good Grief  I suggested that and other things prior.   Its not always the Education (not scholarly, but by being in the profession) that fuels the right thing, its the Empathy.  Cowards don't care, and there is alot of that going on at the Zoo that prevents things getting done.  At the end of this you may ask, how did this become about the San Francisco Zoo?  Here are a few more photos from my archive this year.  What happened at the Pittsburgh Zoo can happen anywhere.  

 One of many Visitors I see 
standing on the barrier at Tigers!!!

 At Sea Lions

Wide angle that includes a Docent 
walking right past the offending behavior!!!

Sure the two open air exhibits (Anteater and Sea Lions, not Tiger) I posted are not that of "threatening" Animals, BUT the point is, this is not acceptable behavior at any exhibit.  Regardless of the danger level of an Animals nature, this is their home, that should be respected.  And if it is an dangerous Animal,  what's wrong with you if you think its ok to behave this way?

I had planned to include links to posts I've written previously pertaining to what I've written here, but right now i don't have the time.  If anyone reading this is interested in more, there is a search box for this blog, you can search "misbehavior" and other such terms to pull up more posts.  There is also a link to the left that will allow you to access my other Zoo related blogs.

As always please remember to expand any comments for more information.

Afterthought:   After several hours of this post being published, in hindsight I feel a bit guilty for my bluntness in blame.  I feel awful for this Family, but I also think the circumstances causing this event need to be addressed because of how common this behavior is.  It obviously doesn't always (and maybe has never before) end this tragic, but once is all it should take for Zoo's to think of exhibit barriers that reflect how the current populous of Visitors behave.    


  1. I found Kim's thoughts to be sincere and truthful. I agree with everything she had to say. The zoo, because of its wonderful animal collection should be cherished and respected by all who come to visit their home. I have been a docent for almost ten years. Loving every minute of it.

  2. @Charlene- Thank you for your comment here and for the ones you have given me in the past that have not been able to post. Your support as someone who is actively a member of the Zoo team, is appreciated. You don't wear rose colored glasses and can see the bad with the good. ... These precious and YES cherished Animals should be Respected, especially in their home. I always wonder why people come to the do if they don't respect Animals?


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