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Man who allegedly took 2-year-old daughter into San Diego Zoo elephant habitat arrested

Crowds under a large statue of a pouncing lion at the entrance of the San Diego Zoo
The main entrance of the San Diego Zoo in 2018.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego police arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of child endangerment after he allegedly carried his 2-year-old daughter into an elephant habitat Friday afternoon at the San Diego Zoo, police said.

It happened about 4:20 p.m. at the world-renowned zoo in Balboa Park, according to San Diego Police Officer Darius Jamsetjee.

“This afternoon … two guests, despite multiple barriers, purposely and illegally trespassed into a habitat, which is home to our Asian and African elephants,” zoo spokesman Andrew James wrote in a statement. “San Diego Zoo security promptly responded to the incident, but the guests had already exited the habitat.”

According to police, the man “wanted to take a photo with the African bull elephant” and climbed through at least two barriers to get into the enclosure. The elephant noticed the intruders, “seemed a little upset” and started moving toward them, a sergeant said.

The father apparently dropped the girl as he was trying to climb back out, but he eventually got himself and the child out uninjured, police said.

The elephants in the enclosure were unharmed, James said, adding that police are now handling the matter and that zoo officials “will follow their guidance.”

Zoo security called police, who found the family and eventually arrested the father on suspicion of child endangerment.

People entering animal habitats at zoos can pose significant dangers to themselves and animals. In 1996, a Manchurian brown bear at the San Diego Zoo bit and seriously injured a man who climbed into the animals’ enclosure. He recovered.

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In 2016, a Cincinnati Zoo worker shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla, after the animal grabbed a child that fell into his enclosure.

Union-Tribune staff researcher Merrie Monteagudo contributed to this report.


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