CLEVELAND (WJW) – A North Ridgeville man is facing charges after investigators said he climbed the outside of an exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and started petting a snow leopard by reaching through steel mesh.
The Metroparks said the incident, which was captured on cell phone video, happened around 1:45 p.m. Sunday in the Asian Highlands Habitat.
Jacob Lane, 24, was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, according to an incident report. A Metroparks spokesperson said additional charges are under review.
Metroparks officials said Lane climbed on top of a building and touched the snow leopard through the mesh but did not enter the habitat. Neither Lane nor any animals were hurt.
“This was a purposeful attempt to get close to the animals, which is very dangerous,” said Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Executive Director Dr. Chris Kuhar. “It seems like he climbed a series of footholds and using some of the structures on the building to be able to get to the top.”
According to the incident report, Lane admitted to climbing the exhibit. The report states Lane apologized but said “it was an awesome experience and he does not regret doing it.” He also told officers he was not concerned about safety because he shared a “bond” with the leopard, according to the report.
Kuhar said the exhibit has barriers and signage warning against getting close to animals.
“He’s very lucky the cats didn’t reach out and get him with a claw or a tooth. He’s very lucky to not be injured at all,” Kuhar said. “There’s a lot of danger in getting close. That’s why we have barriers in front of all our big cat exhibits.”
He said zoo staff members are monitoring the area as it considers potential modifications to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“We just encourage people to come out and enjoy the animals but enjoy them at a distance,” Kuhar said. “Respect the barriers. The barriers are there for a reason. It’s not to make it less fun, it’s to make it more safe.”