This story is pretty wild — no pun intended!
On Friday, 25-year-old Jose Navarrete was arrested for child endangerment after bringing his 2-year-old daughter inside of an elephant habitat at the San Diego Zoo. Navarrete was reportedly attempting to get a photo with the animal, which then charged at the pair. In a jaw-dropping cell phone video taken by a witness, Navarrete can be seen scrambling to escape the enclosure as the elephant approaches. He even drops his toddler at one point before quickly scooping her back up.
You can see for yourself (below):
This is totally terrifying — though we can’t imagine what possessed this man to break the #1 rule of any zoo! The San Diego Zoo released a statement on the incident, sharing:
“On March 19, two guests, despite multiple barriers, purposely and illegally trespassed into a habitat, which is home to our Asian and African elephants. San Diego Zoo security promptly responded to the incident, but the guests had already exited the habitat. Both the elephants and the guests are unharmed.”
One witness, Lori Ortale, told the local FOX affiliate:
“You hear this woman yelling, ‘Jose, stop. Jose, stop.’ 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. … These guys right away were saying, ‘That elephant is going to charge,’ and it did.”
Jake Ortale, who also witnessed the event, added:
“We told him to get out and he turned around and he saw it, thankfully, just in time. 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.”
Another local news outlet CBS8 spoke with Catherine Doyle, the director of science, research and advocacy with PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, about what occurred. She explained:
“The elephant you saw I believe is Chaba, who was actually taken from the wild when she was a baby, taken away from her wild family. She was responding the way really an elephant would to an intruder. It looked to me like it was a mock charge, which is really intended to scare off an intruder. However, if Chaba thought her message wasn’t getting through, it could’ve turned into a more serious attack.”
We’re relieved it didn’t, but it was clearly a close call for Navarrete and his daughter. He’s now being held on $100,000 bail and expected to appear before a judge on March 30. The toddler returned home with her mother, thankfully unharmed.
Let this be a very dangerous lesson to any zoo-goers — those barriers are in place for a reason!
[Image via WENN/Avalon]