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Rare zoo animal dies after choking on a squeezable applesauce bag

An East Tennessee zoo is warning visitors not to bring food after one of its animals died over the weekend as a result of attempting to eat garbage brought in by a patron.

Lief, a male sitatunga, died after choking on a squeezable bag of applesauce at Brights Zoo in Limestone, zoo officials posted on Facebook.

The zoo is located about 80 miles northeast of Knoxville, south of Kingsport.

“Today we lost a beloved animal due to suffocation,” the zoo posted Saturday with a photo of two discarded applesauce bags with thick, red caps. In the post, the zoo explained that the packaging is dangerous to zoo animals because the caps resemble food to some animals.

Park security regularly conducts bag searches to prevent people from bringing items into the zoo, officials wrote.

“Yet some people find ways to sneak these in,” the post continues.

“He came to us when he was one year old,” zoo owner David Bright told USA TODAY on Monday.

Bright said it appears someone smuggled the squeezable bag into the zoo and the lid of the bag was thrown into Lief’s exhibit.

Zookeepers found the animal in distress, veterinarians attempted to remove the object from Lief’s airways, but the animal died during the procedure.

“He had a whole life left to live,” the zoo wrote in the comments section after the crowd expressed not only anger but condolences for the zoo’s loss.

Who brought a discarded applesauce bag to Brights Zoo?

Zoo officials said it was not immediately known who brought the discarded applesauce bags into the zoo.

“We would like to know those responsible, but unfortunately we don’t think we ever will,” reads the message on social media.

USA TODAY has contacted the zoo.

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What is a sitatunga?

Sitatungas are medium-sized antelopes native to Africa, according to seaworld.org. Their diet includes vegetation and they occasionally eat fruit from fallen trees and chew the bark of trees and shrubs.

They are aquatic animals that live in swamps. They love to swim, according to the website, and can live in a zoo for about 20 years.

Guests are encouraged to visit vehicles or outside picnic area to eat and drink

According to its website, Brights Zoo is a private, family-owned animal business, including some endangered species, including addax, bongo and scimitar-horned oryx, and Bactrian camels. The center also contains more common but exotic creatures such as red kangaroos, spider monkeys, pandas and zebras.

The zoo reminded guests who wish to eat or drink that they can visit their vehicles or picnic areas in the zoo parking lot and re-enter the zoo.

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her at X @nataliealund.

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