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Man says he petted zoo cougars after calling ‘Here, kitty’

DELAWARE, Ohio (AP) — A man who jumped a fence to pet cougars at the Columbus zoo and posted video of it on YouTube says he jokingly called “Here, kitty” and moved closer when the animals seemed to respond.

Joshua Newell of suburban Gahanna pleaded no contest Wednesday to a misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge and was found guilty. He was sentenced to four days in jail, with two of those suspended, and fined $200 plus other costs in Delaware Municipal Court, north of Columbus.

He left court wearing a T-shirt printed with the words “Cougar Love,” WBNS-TV reported.

His video posted last week shows an outer fence being jumped, then two cougars being petted through another fence as someone says things such as “Kitty, kitty, kitty.”

Newell, 35, told the station Tuesday that he had called out “Here, kitty” as a joke and assumed the animals wouldn’t move toward him, but they did.

“I figured if the cat’s going to go out of his way to get some loving, I’m going to go ahead and jump the barrier and show him some love,” Newell said.

He said the encounter lasted several minutes.

“They were purring,” he said. “They were so loving.”

He said he may have acted like an idiot but also questions the level of access to the cats, saying it was “easy” to approach the inner fence.

Officials from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium say safety and animal welfare are top priorities, and they have called the video “alarming.” They want to keep the exhibit as it is to help the animals behave as naturally as possible but said they will have to consider changes if further breaches occur, WBNS reported.

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