An Ohio man is facing charges after climbing a fence to pet cougars at the Columbus Zoo

By Drew Mackie
Updated July 28, 2015 04:00 AM

Citing animal welfare and visitor safety as top priorities, an Ohio zoo is pressing charges against a man who climbed into the cougar enclosure, filmed himself petting the large cats and then posted the video to YouTube

Gahanna, Ohio, resident Joshua Newell, 35, was charged on Monday with criminal trespassing after he hopped a fence and then approached a second barrier, where he called the cougars over to him. In the video, he addresses the cougars as “kitty.”

“It is fortunate that neither [Newell] nor the animals were harmed,” Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officials said in a press release.

“Barriers, like the fence line at the cougar habitat, are in place to keep our guests and animals safe,” said Tom Stalf, zoo president and CEO, in the release. “The actions taken in this video were alarming and resulted in our decision to press charges.”

The statement also implied that zoo officials only learned about the incident as a result of the video being posted on YouTube last week. According to the Columbus Dispatch, investigators are still looking into whether Newell was alone when the video was taken.

Speaking to ABC News, however, Newell characterized his actions in the cougar exhibit as innocent.

“It was very spontaneous. I jumped the barrier and showed them some love,” he said, noting that he never felt threatened. “Why would I be afraid?” he said. “They wanted me to pet them.”