SAN DIEGO — A 25-year-old man was arrested Friday after police say he and his 2-year-old daughter made it “well inside” the elephant exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.
Zoo officials said the guests bypassed multiple barriers and “purposely and illegally trespassed” into a habitat that includes the zoo’s Asian and African elephants. At least one of the elephants spotted the people and charged at them, according to the San Diego Police Department.
The incident was reported to authorities at about 4:20 p.m. “San Diego Zoo security promptly responded to the incident, but the guests had already exited the habitat,” zoo officials said in a news release.
Witnesses told FOX 5 they could not believe what they were seeing. It appeared the man was attempting to take a picture down in the enclosure, they said.
“You hear this woman yelling, ‘Jose, stop. Jose, stop,’” witness Lori Ortale said. “And he jumps the fence and then he goes through the elephant enclosure, and he’s got his little girl with him who, I don’t know, had to be under 2.”
Penal records confirm the man’s identity as Jose Manuel Navarrete. He was booked into San Diego Central Jail downtown on child cruelty charges and may face further consequences for entering the enclosure.
Navarrete, his daughter and the elephants were all unharmed in the incident, police and zoo officials said. According to the zoo, the man’s presence in the enclosure riled up the elephant.
Witnesses say it was an African elephant with tusks who wasn’t going to share any space.
“These guys right away were saying, ‘That elephant is going to charge,’ and it did,” Lori Ortale said.
“We told him to get out and he turned around and he saw it, thankfully, just in time,” another witness Jake Ortale said. “He runs, throws his baby through the gate and it’s seconds from hitting him. He jumps through the gate, falls on the ground and then it roared. … The baby starts crying and people were just mad at this guy.”
After Navarrete’s arrest, the child went home with her mother, Officer Tony Martinez told City News Service.