The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 10, 2013

African painted dogs won't be in Somerset

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Zoo’s collection of African painted dogs won’t be part of an expanding International Conservation Center in Somerset County, after all.

Zoo President and CEO Barbara Baker on Wednesday announced the dogs will be relocated to other facilities.

The group of about 10 animals has been off exhibit since a toddler fell into the enclosure and was mauled to death in November.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Baker said in a press release. “The decision encompasses not only the welfare of the dogs, but the healing process for our staff and the family.

“After reviewing the recommendations, I made the decision to relocate our family of African painted dogs to other (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facilities.”

Prior to the accident, some of the painted dogs were already slated for transfer to participate in breeding programs, based on the zoo association’s Species Survival Plan recommendations, Baker said.

In April 2011, the zoo announced that African painted dogs would be the second species to be part of the Somerset County breeding center near Fairhope, joining a group of African elephants. The announcement came as the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium was preparing to host an international Painted Dog Conference.

“It’s ideal for them to be in an open-range situation that the (International Conservation Center) can provide – an area large enough to display naturalistic behavior in social structure right through to breeding,” painted dog expert Greg Rasmussen said at the time.

The death of 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh in November launched a re-evaluation of the center’s plans. The dogs will not be transferred to Somerset County.

“There is a lot of emotion tied to this issue,” Baker said.

“Even with the dogs leaving our facility, it is important we continue our conservation efforts of this species.

“As a zoo, our role is to educate our visitors about endangered and threatened species and what they can do to help save them in the wild.”             

Also on Wednesday, the Allegheny County district attorney said he expects to close his investigation into the boy’s death.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said he’s found no evidence of criminal conduct so far and expects to close his investigation unless an ongoing U.S. Department of Agriculture review turns up any serious problems.

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