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Zoo officials issue warning after identifying cause of death of young antelope: 'Today we lost a beloved animal...'

"Some ask why we don't allow squeezable pouches into the zoo. The reason is simple."

"Some ask why we don't allow squeezable pouches into the zoo. The reason is simple."

Photo Credit: iStock

A 7-year-old antelope at a Tennessee zoo died recently after choking on a plastic cap from a squeezable food pouch left behind by a visitor, Reuters reported.

What's happening?

Brights Zoo, a privately owned zoo in Limestone, Tennessee, reported the death of Lief, a 7-year-old male sitatunga antelope, on its social media accounts.

​​"Some ask why we don't allow squeezable pouches into the zoo," Brights Zoo wrote in a social media post. "The reason is simple — the packaging is dangerous to our animals. Today we lost a beloved animal due to choking."

Though the zoo said it prohibits guests from bringing this type of plastic waste onto its premises and conducts bag checks at the entrance, "some people find ways to sneak these in."

Why is plastic waste important?

The death of Lief the antelope, who had an expected lifespan of around 22 years in captivity, echoes the struggles faced by animals in the wild as well.

As the amount of plastic waste in the world continues to pile up, more and more animals are ingesting plastic — often with deadly consequences.

In Telluride, Colorado, a sick bear recently had to be euthanized by authorities. Further investigation found that the animal had been suffering for months due to plastic waste that it had consumed, which blocked its digestive system.

The problem is even more pronounced for marine animals. One recent study found that seabirds are being poisoned to death by a "plastic soup" that forms in their stomachs as plastic waste is broken down by saltwater. Plastics are constantly being found in the stomachs of fish, sea turtles, and other animals.

What's being done about plastic waste?

To protect wildlife around the globe, societies must work quickly to decrease the amount of single-use plastic products produced. As for-profit companies cannot be counted on to make meaningful changes on their own, the only way for this to happen is for governments to step in and start banning these products that have a devastating effect on animals.

On an individual level, we should all be very aware of the harm that littering can cause — particularly at a zoo, where our plastic waste could easily directly kill an animal.

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