Police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have rejected media claims that a herd of eight donkeys were jailed for four days as a punishment for munching on expensive plants kept outside a prison complex.

"Uttar Pradesh Police has nothing to do with their arrest or custody," the department said in a tweet on Tuesday (28 November).

Local media reports earlier stated, citing jail authorities, that the animals were detained on 24 November and released four days later on Monday (27 November) after their owner visited the prison, seeking their release. However, the state police appeared to disassociate them from the incident after it began gaining attention on social media.

Jail superintendent Tulsi Ram Sharma told the Press Trust of India that plants worth 50,000 Indian rupees (£582, $776) were placed in pots outside the Orai prison complex in Jalaun district for beautification, but the animals munched on those expensive plants.

"We had brought plants from Delhi and had planted them outside the jail premises. In the last few days, cattle destroyed these plants worth over Rs 50,000. We caught the animals and handed them to their owners with instructions not to let their animals loose here," Sharma added.

Other jail authorities were quoted as saying that the animals grazed on plants worth nearly 200,000 Indian rupees over the last month, and also injured young children in the locality. "The animals not only ate plants, they ruined the entire garden and injured the children of the colony," jail superintendent Sitaram Sharma told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

The animals were held after their owner, Kamlesh, let them loose despite being warned several times, local media reports noted. The reports added that Kamlesh went to jail to get his animals released, but the jail authorities refused. It was only after the owner took help from a local politician that the donkeys were released.

The jail authorities argued that the detention was justified as the animals were posing a threat to children and the plants. "We made all the arrangements for them inside. They were fed two times a day," a jail official told the newspaper.

IBTimes UK has contacted the Jalaun district police station for their comments on the incident and are awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time animals were detained and kept in custody. Earlier in May, a dog was sentenced to death in Pakistan's Punjab province for biting a child. The dog was even imprisoned for a week for injuring the child.

In 2015, Indian officials had arrested a pigeon which they suspected was a spy. The bird's body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu, which is Pakistan's official language. The officials took the bird to a vet for x-rays to find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play. The pigeon was described as a "suspected spy" in police diary.

In a similar incident in 2015, a squirrel was arrested for "stalking" a German woman. The woman complained against the tiny red squirrel, stating it was chasing her and was acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called police for help. After the authorities arrested the squirrel, they later discovered it was suffering from exhaustion.