The Los Angeles Zoo issued a stern warning on Thursday after a recording of a man spanking a hippopotamus in its enclosure prompted a criminal investigation.
A video of the incident made rounds on social media the week before. In the footage, a man goes over a railing and slowly approaches two hippos—Rosie and her mother, Mara—before slapping the younger one.
The spanking apparently startles Mara, looking up as the man hops back out of the pen.
Los Angeles police said it was looking into the incident as a case of trespassing instead of animal cruelty because Rosie did not show any clear signs of injury, the L.A. Times reported.
The zoo said it immediately alerted authorities and increased supervision of the animal habitats, posting “no trespassing” signs in the zoo.
“Thankfully, the man and the hippos were unharmed, but we feel it is very important for the public to understand the serious risk presented by harassing an animal, even if it may seem like a harmless prank,” a message on the zoo’s Facebook page said.
It continued to say that such acts could damage the trust zoo personnel have built with the animals. The post also urged guests who see “disrespectful and unsafe behavior” to report it to a worker or a volunteer.
“We want every guest’s Zoo experience to be filled with discovery and connection with wildlife,” the message said. “But we must remind everyone to be safe, practice good judgment, and respect the animals.”