African Painted Dogs Pittsburgh Zoo Death: Mother Of Killed Toddler Won't Be Charged

By Melissa Siegel on November 29, 2012 4:52 PM EST

African painted dogs
Eleven African painted dogs mauled a toddler to death earlier this month. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The mother of the toddler mauled to death by African painted dogs at the Pittsburgh Zoo will not be charged, Reuters reports.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala told reporters on Wednesday that there was no evidence that Elizabeth Derkosh committed any crimes during the tragedy. Two-year-old Maddox Derkosh was killed earlier this month when he fell into the African painted dogs' pit at the zoo. Elizabeth Derkosh had lifted her son on top of the railing so he could get a better look at the animals.

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While Derkosh will not face charges in her son's death, Zappala said that it's possible the zoo could be held responsible for the design of the African painted dogs exhibit.

"I have reached one conclusion and that is we are going to work together, with the zoo and with these administrative and regulatory agencies, and we're going to do as best we can to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again," Zappala told reporters.

According to the Daily Mail, both a veterinarian and other members of the zoo's staff arrived quickly on the scene that day to try to save the young boy. However, they soon realized that there was no way to save the toddler as the 11 African painted dogs mauled him to death. The dogs have reportedly been quarantined, while the observation deck for the exhibit remains closed.

While nothing like this tragedy had ever happened before at the Pittsburgh Zoo, those same African painted dogs nearly escaped from the exhibit back in May. According to CBS Pittsburgh, the dogs dug out of their primary enclosure but remained trapped in a backup one, so there was no danger to zoo visitors. Still, the guests were taken into local buildings just to be safe.

Because of the accident, the Pittsburgh Zoo considered not publishing their annual calendar, as the March 2013 page featured a picture of the same African painted dogs that killed the toddler. However, President Barbara Baker told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the zoo decided to distribute the calendars anyway. They were mailed out just weeks after Maddox Derkosh's death.

"We did discuss it, and we looked at it, but we decided to go forward with it," Baker said. "African painted dogs are a wonderful endangered species. ... They are animals that we're responsible for taking good care of."

According to National Geographic, African painted dogs are called as such because of the various patches of colors on their coats. They are known for feasting on larger species, including antelopes and wildebeests.

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