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.

Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police said the attack happened at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday after the mother picked the child up and put him on top of a railing at the edge of a viewing deck. “Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the pit, and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs,” Kraus said. “It was very horrific.”

It’s not yet clear whether the boy died from the fall or the attack, said Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Zoo officials at first estimated the boy fell 14 feet, but police said it was 11. It’s not clear which is correct.

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.

The zoo was immediately closed; it was not clear when it would be reopened, authorities said.

Authorities didn’t immediately release the name of the boy or his mother, but say she is 34 years old and lives in Pleasant Hills, just outside Pittsburgh. The boy’s father arrived on the scene soon after the accident, police said.

Zoo officials said there is also a mesh barrier beyond the railing, but Kraus said it was designed to catch small objects such as cameras, and not humans.

Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said no one he’s spoken to can recall any deaths of children at an accredited zoo over the last 40 years or more. Feldman said the Pittsburgh Zoo successfully completed its five-year review in September, which means it meets or exceeds all safety standards.

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