The National Zoological Park in Delhi on Thursday ordered an inquiry after its last Cape buffalo died allegedly due to the consumption of a plastic bag, PTI reported. The male Cape buffalo, a species found only in Africa, died on August 27.

The zoo’s veterinary officer Abhijit Bhawal found a plastic-like material in the stomach of the animal during the autopsy. A letter written by Bhawal to the zoo director Renu Singh on September 1 said: “Further incidence of plastic in the stomach of the Cape buffalo has raised many questions. Hence, I would request you to kindly take the matter seriously,” according to Hindustan Times.

The zoo had two Cape buffaloes, out of which one died in February 2017.

“The administration has taken a serious note of the incident and an inquiry has been ordered into it,” the zoo’s curator Riyaz Khan said. “Strict action will be taken against anyone found guilty.” Khan said samples of the plastic-like material have been sent to a Bareilly-based laboratory for tests.

“Though there’s a complete ban on plastic inside the zoo, polythene bags find their way to animal enclosures through birds,” Khan added. Former joint director of the zoo, AK Bhowmik, will lead the investigation and submit a report in the matter.

Khan said the zoo banned plastic in 1992 and authorities have also put up notice boards warning visitors against bringing plastic items inside. According to the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority, a penalty is imposed if visitors carry plastic bags inside the premises.

However, an unidentified zoo official alleged negligence on the part of the administration which led to the death of the animal. “Small plastic bottles of water and juice are sold at kiosks inside the zoo,” the official told the news agency. “Visitors discard them wherever they like. There’s no check on it.”

Animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi said the rules only apply on paper. “Visitors enter the zoo freely with plastic bags and even throw them everywhere inside the premises,” she told the Hindustan Times. “There is no check.”

Former member-secretary of the Central Zoo Authority BS Bonal said the death of the buffalo is an unfortunate incident. “The zoo should be kept clean, particularly the area around enclosures,” he said.

On Independence Day and again in his “Mann ki Baat” programme in August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for a new mass movement against the use of single-use plastic from October 2. The prime minister asked people to ensure proper collection and storage of plastic to protect the environment.

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