African painted dogs, endangered in the wild on that continent, have been roaming the small simulated grassland savanna at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium since 2006.
When a small child tragically fell Sunday over the railing of the painted dog observation deck built in 2009, Barbara Baker, the zoo's president and chief executive officer, said the dogs acted instinctively.
"The dogs were doing what the dogs do," Ms. Baker said at the news conference at the zoo Sunday. "They acted as a pack."
Archive: Zoo official explains nature of African painted dogs
An official at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium talks about the nature of African painted dogs. (11/5/2012)
According to the Pittsburgh Zoo's website, African painted dogs are also called African wild dogs, Cape hunting dogs, spotted dogs and painted wolves. They have large rounded ears; have mottled brown, black and beige coats; and weigh between 37 and 80 pounds. Ms. Baker compared their size to that of "a small German shepherd."
According to the zoo's website, African painted dogs hunt in packs in the wild and eat antelope, zebras, wildebeest, springboks, gazelles and impala.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Network and Pittsburgh Zoo websites, painted dogs were once commonly found in 39 African countries and numbered more than half a million. But human development and settlement have constricted their range, and they are often hit by cars and trucks and shot by farmers to protect livestock. The websites estimate there are now an estimated 3,000 in the wild, mainly in the southern African nations of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.
The zoo's exhibit is part of a partnership with the Zimbabwe-based Painted Dog Conservation.
There is no record of an African painted dog attacking a human in the wild, according to the Wildlife Conservation Network website.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. First Published November 5, 2012 5:00 AM