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Tragedy at zoo signals need for safety reform

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Maddox Derkosh, a two-year-old toddler, passed away at the Pittsburgh Zoo last Sunday after falling into the African painted dogs’ exhibit, where he was mauled while his helpless mother watched from above.

Some people were quick to blame this tragic event on the zoo or Derkosh’s mother; however, neither of those statements are true. One party cannot fully be blamed for this heartbreaking incident because it happened in a matter of seconds and was definitely not intentional.

The open side of the exhibit’s viewing deck has a railing slanted 45 degrees toward the edge of the deck and protective netting about four feet further down to prevent small objects from falling into the exhibit. These structures are meant to balance visitors’ ability to enjoy the exhibit and also ensure their safety.

Within the blink of an eye, Derkosh somehow fell out of his mother’s grip toward the security net, on which he bounced twice before falling into the African painted dogs’ exhibit, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

Even though the zoo successfully completed its five-year review in September, the exhibit’s railing was clearly not sturdy enough, or else Derkosh probably would not have fallen off it. Still, the zoo cannot completely be blamed for this tragic event, as almost every zoo has this type of exhibit set up in order to provide visitors a better view of the animals.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to construct a foolproof exhibit; making zoos especially safe for small children is a difficult goal. But this is the Pittsburgh Zoo’s first instance in which a visitor’s life was lost since it first opened in 1898, showing how rare and unexpected these kind of incidents really are.

Despite many other visitors’ tendencies to lift their young children above the railing, the Derkosh family should not have followed suit and put the child in danger. However, one still cannot truly blame Derkosh’s mother for this accident. This mother, who is already distressed about her youngest son’s unforgettable death, does not need more stress on her shoulders by some members of society accusing her of something for which she solely to blame.

The closest staff member was only 10 feet away from the attack and immediately went into emergency response mode by attempting to lure the dogs away from Derkosh, as it was too dangerous for them to enter the exhibit. Unfortunately, four of these dogs were not easily called away from Derkosh. Instead, a keeper should have thrown real food into the exhibit to give those remaining dogs an extra incentive to leave Derkosh.

Even though the specific details about Derkosh’s fall are unclear, neither the Pittsburgh Zoo nor Derkosh’s mother can individually be blamed for this devastating event. One party alone is not responsible for this tragedy. Multiple factors were at play in this horrible accident, and hopefully the Pittsburgh Zoo and its visitors can make the necessary reforms to ensure such accidents don’t happen again.