A man slips over a low fence keeping onlookers away from the hippo enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo, then creeps toward two of the animals in a viral video posted online.
He reaches over a low wall around the habitat to slap Rosie, a 4-year-old hippo, on her rear end, the video shows. Mara, Rosie’s mother, looks up at the noise and the man quickly hops back over the fence, dancing and laughing.
“Oh my God,” says a woman off-camera, apparently the person shooting the video from across the hippo enclosure.
Now Los Angeles police are investigating the incident shown in the video, posted Aug. 7 to a Twitter account called Something to Laugh At, reported the Los Angeles Times.
It’s not clear when the incident took place, but zoo officials warn such stunts are incredibly dangerous, reported KABC. “Hippos kill more people than lions in Africa,” KABC reported.
“The Zoo would like to remind everyone that it is never acceptable for a guest to enter the habitat of any animal at the Zoo, excluding our staff-supervised animal encounters,” zoo officials said in a statement released Monday night, reported KCAL.
“It is a privilege to observe these rare and endangered species, but they are still wild animals and their space must be respected at all times,” the statement read. “Our first priority is always to keep our guests, staff, and animals safe.”
Zoo officials also have hung a “No Trespassing” sign at the hippo exhibit, reported the Times.
Since Rosie and Mara don’t show any signs of being traumatized, police are investigating the incident as a possible trespassing case rather than one involving animal cruelty, as reported by the Times.
Entering a zoo exhibit unauthorized, which violates a state law, can be either a misdemeanor or an infraction, zoo spokeswoman April Spurlock told the Times.
“Every animal is different and we don’t know exactly what they were thinking,” Spurlock told the Times. “But, it’s an invasion of the trust we work so hard to build with these animals.”
The Los Angeles Zoo does offer a hippo encounter program, in which visitors can pay $20 to pet a hippopotamus from behind a barricade, reported KCAL.
Hippos, which can weigh up to 3.5 tons and reach 13 feet in length, are found in Africa, where they live in rivers and swamps, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. While they are herbivores, their speed and aggressiveness when threatened make them very dangerous.
Hippos kill an estimated 500 people each year in Africa, according to BBC News.
A wild hippo killed a tourist in Kenya on Saturday, reported CNN. Chang Ming Chuang, 65, of Taiwan was taking photos of the hippo from the shore when the animal attacked, Kenyan wildlife officials say.