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Man arrested after taking daughter into zoo elephant habitat

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A father has been arrested on suspicion of child endangerment after he carried his 2-year-old daughter into the elephant habitat at the San Diego Zoo to take a photograph with the animals.

The man bypassed multiple barriers and “purposely and illegally trespassed” into a habitat for Asian and African elephants Friday afternoon, zoo spokesman Andrew James said.

A witness video provided to NBC San Diego shows a man dropping the child as they flee the enclosure as a trumpeting elephant charged at them. The man picked up the toddler and was able to get her out safely.

Police said the 25-year-old man wanted to take a photo with the African bull elephant. James said the elephants were not harmed.

San Diego County jail records show Jose Manuel Navarrete was being held on $100,000 bail for investigation of child endangerment. He was set to be arraigned on March 30.

It wasn't immediately known if he had a lawyer who would speak on his behalf.

Witness Lori Ortale told KSWB-TV she heard a woman yelling “Jose, stop” before a man jumped the fence and through the elephant enclosure.

“These guys right away were saying, ‘That elephant is going to charge,’ and it did,” Ortale said.

“We told him to get out and he turned around and he saw it thankfully just in time,” said Jake Ortale, who also witnessed the incident. “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,” he said.

After Navarrete’s arrest, the child went home with her mother, police said.

FILE - In this June 11, 2020, file photo, a sign is near the entrance to the San Diego Zoo in San Diego. A father allegedly carried his 2-year-old daughter into an elephant habitat at the zoo to take a photo with the animals, police said Friday, March 19, 2021. An elephant seemed like it wanted to charge at them and the father dropped his child when they tried to escape the enclosure Friday, San Diego Police Sgt. Ariel Savage told NBC San Diego. He was eventually able to get her out safely. The elephant was not harmed, zoo officials told The San Diego Union-Tribune. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)