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Man arrested after seeking close encounter with polar bear

An apparent quest for a selfie with a 1,000-pound polar bear ended with the arrest of a Lackawanna man Friday.

Buffalo police charged Marwan M. Taher, 35, of Elkhart Street with criminal trespass after he allegedly climbed over a barrier into a restricted area of the polar bear exhibit and approached a bear that was behind a wire-mesh fence. Neither Taher nor the bear, a male named Sakari, was injured.

"He was not in the actual bear pit," said Zoo spokesman Christian Dobosiewicz. "He walked up to the mesh. We don't know what he was doing. We don't think he made any contact with the bear."

A police report suggested that Taher may have been trying to take a cellphone picture of himself with the bears.

Other zoo visitors spotted Taher around 4:45 p.m. near the fence and alerted zoo staff. Taher fled the area and was tracked by security staff into the parking lot, where police officers who were on routine patrol in the area stopped him.

"Zoo guests realized something was not right and made our staff aware," said Dobosiewicz. "I don't know what he was thinking, and I don't want to speculate on what he was thinking."

A chest-high barrier separates the sidewalk from a restricted buffer area of the exhibit where only trained zoo staff are allowed. Staff do not have free contact with the bears, but they can use the buffer area for bear-training exercises. There, staff reward bears for following commands by giving food through the fence openings.

Taher allegedly scaled the chest-high barrier into the restricted buffer area and went up to the fence, potentially risking harm to himself and the bear.

"This is not something anybody should try doing," said Dobosiewicz. "It's almost common sense."

Sakari is five years old and has been at zoo since November. The polar bear exhibit also includes a smaller female named Luna. Male polar bears can weigh as much as 1,600 pounds. Third-degree criminal trespass is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

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