(CNN) -- When visitors to China's Zhengzhou Zoo noticed its seven-year-old female giant panda, Jin Yi, was missing, zoo officials initially claimed she had been sent away for "mating."
Days later, they admitted the panda had died of organ failure after bleeding from gastroenteritis.
In a press event, the zoo told reporters the panda suddenly began refusing food on February 7. The next day, its physical and mental health "quickly deteriorated," and it died in the early morning of February 9.
But after the zoo's initial false statements, some observers have questioned whether the panda had been abused or even tortured to death.
When journalists visited the panda enclosure after Jin Yi's death, they reported seeing the habitat riddled with feces, some of it even mixed in with the bamboo.
Chinese state media also quoted visitors who recalled seeing zoo officials make money by forcing the panda to pose for pictures with guests in the summer heat, whipping her if she disobeyed.
Others said that the panda was fed a meager diet of corn cakes instead of a proper diet of bamboo.
The zoo has categorically denied all allegations of mistreatment.
"The panda even ate better food than people. Some vegetables were even squashed before fed to her. There was absolutely no abusing," the zoo's media chief told reporters.
He added that there would be no firm conclusions about the panda's death until autopsy results arrived, which could take at least two weeks.
Nonetheless, the panda's sudden demise left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, some of whom saw it as another example of a society gone awry.
"The death of the Zhengzhou Zoo's panda reflects reality," complained one Chinese microblogger.
"First, it's customary to lie to the public. Second, anyone with even a little bit of power uses it to oppress people or animals... they have no respect for the world."
Dayu Zhang and Steven Jiang of CNN Beijing contributed reporting.