San Diego man arrested for taking 2-year-old inside elephant exhibit at zoo

A 25-year-old man was arrested on Friday after police said 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.

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.

Witnesses said they could not believe what they were seeing.

“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.”

San Diego County Jail records confirm the man’s identity as Jose Manuel Navarrete.

“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.”

Navarrete, his daughter and the elephants were all unharmed in the incident, police and zoo officials said. Police added that Navarrete’s daughter went home with her mother following his arrest. Officers are investigating if drugs or alcohol played a role in the incident.

Navarrete, who is facing child cruelty charges and may face further consequences for entering the enclosure, is being held on $100,000 bail. He is set to be arraigned on March 30.