A man who climbed a barrier to pet a pair of cougars at the Columbus Zoo will be in Delaware Municipal Court Wednesday morning to face trespassing charges.
Joshua Miles Newell, 35, of Gahanna, posted a video to his YouTube channel on July 21 showing him climbing over a barrier at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s North American exhibit. In the video, Newell calls, “here kitty kitty kitty,” to the cougars and approaches the two fences separating him from the cougars.
He proceeds to reach his hand through the fences and pet and scratch the cougars.
The video — titled “Cougar” — had reached more than 126,000 views Monday afternoon.
After zoo officials saw the video, they contacted the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and pressed charges against Newell. Deputies report they viewed the video and determined a criminal offense had occurred.
Deputies issued a summons to Newell to appear in Delaware Municipal Court, and he is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. on one count of criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. A judge has not yet been assigned to the case.
Zoo staff report the cougars and Newell were not harmed during the incident.
“Animal welfare and safety are two of our top priorities” said Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo. “Barriers, like the fence line at the cougar habitat, are in place to keep our guests and animals safe. The actions taken in this video were alarming and resulted in our decision to press charges.”
Jennifer Wilson, director of communications at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said nothing like this has happened at the Columbus Zoo in the decade and a half that she has worked there.
Wilson said the exhibit meets safety standards and does not need to be changed. Wilson added that security personnel are constantly roaming the park to ensure safety.