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What was a cooked horse head doing in a Corona beer box in Highbridge Park? Anji Barton/Flickr

Officials are investigating possible links between a gruesome cooked horse head found in a box in a New York City park to a religious ritual.

The large head was found inside a Corona beer box by a horrified passer-by strolling through Manhattan's Highbridge Park near the Harlem River. The box also included other animal bones along with some conventional picnic fare: fruit, vegetables and soda.

Police do not suspect any criminal activity but are investigating whether the animal could have been cooked as part of a religious or "voodoo" ritual. They are also looking at if it was simply part of a picnic celebrating Dominican Republic Independence Day on 27 February in a neighbourhood with a strong Dominican community, reported the New York Post.

Small animals like turtles are sometimes found alive — or dead — in Central Park and other area parks carrying attached messages or markings that are believed to be linked to local Santeria or other religious rituals. Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba beliefs with some Catholic elements that can include animal sacrifice.

Chickens carrying messages or dyed in odd colours are sometimes killed or abandoned alive near Jamaica Bay in Queens by practitioners of Kali, a sect of Hinduism that originated in Southern India, according to the New York Daily News.

The day the horse head was found, sheep and goat remains were found in nearby Inwood Hill Park.

Over a dozen other mutilated animal carcasses have been found in city parks over the past two years, according to public records, the Daily Beast reports. Among the weirdest findings was a goat head pinned in a tree with its body "wrapped in a red sheet on the ground," decapitated birds arranged in a circle, and a cow tongue full of needles attached to a tree.

Nailing a tongue to a tree is believed to "to silence damaging rumours or court testimony" in some Afro-Caribbean religions, the Gothamist reported after a cow tongue was discovered in a Brooklyn park.

The city's department of Animal Control and Welfare and the Association for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty were informed of the horse head, and an investigation is continuing.