A zebra that ran away from a horse riding club in Japan has died in a golf course lake after it was tranquilised.

Police officers and veterinarians had chased the animal around the course near Toki city in the central Gifu prefecture for hours.

It ran into the lake shortly after it was shot with a tranquiliser dart.

The animal died despite being pulled out within minutes. Officers said it had likely drowned and that its heart had stopped.

A zebra struggles in a lake after it was shot with a tranquilizer dart and ran into the lake on a golf course in Toki, Gifu prefecture, central Japan Wednesday, 23 March 2016.It plunged into the lake after it was shot

The two-year-old male zebra was owned by a mobile zoo, reported the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, but was being housed at the Mikuni West Farm, a local stable and riding club.

On Tuesday evening, farm managers were bringing in the zebra for the night when it became agitated, trampled the paddock fence, and escaped, fleeing towards a nearby mountain.

By early Wednesday morning police were receiving reports of a zebra running along a highway.

They quickly tracked it to the Toki International Golf Course, where veterinarians and police tried to catch it.

It ran into a lake shortly after being darted.

“We pulled it out, but its heart had stopped,” said police spokesman Takahiro Taniguchi, saying it had likely drowned.

A zebra is pulled from a lake in Toki, Gifu prefecture, central Japan Wednesday, 23 March 2016.The zebra was pulled out within minutes but its heart had already stopped

The unusual story quickly became a talking point among Japanese netizens who expressed shock and sadness on Wednesday, with the Japanese word for zebra “shimauma” trending on Twitter.

Many retweeted a photo by a girl who said she had spotted the animal galloping down a road on Tuesday night and expressed surprise at spotting “a zebra in the forest”.

Tweet by Japanese Twitter user Mihochuqn on 23 March 2016 about a runaway zebra