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By Henry Austin

A Chinese zoo has been accused of lying about a lion and trying to pass off a dog as the king of beasts, state media reported Friday.

Visitors to the facility in the city of Louhe discovered the deception when they approached the cage marked “African lion” and the beast started barking instead of roaring, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.

The creature was actually a Tibetan mastiff — a large, hairy breed of dog with a lion-like mane.

"The zoo is absolutely trying to cheat us," one customer told the paper. "They are trying to disguise dogs as lions."

"The sign clearly said African lion so I can only think that this was an attempt to fool the visitor," another added.

The zoo also reportedly had a dog in the wolf cage, foxes in the leopard enclosure and nutrias in the snake den. 

In this photo taken Aug. 12, a Tibetan mastiff looks out from a cage near a sign which reads "African lion" in Luohe zoo, China.Today

The facility’s manager, Liu Suya, denied any attempt at deception, saying the lion had been lent out for breeding and would be returned soon, the paper reported.

She added that the dog belonged to a friend who was away on business and needed a place to keep his pet.

The leopard, she explained, had also been sent out for breeding, while the other dog was put in with the wolf, because they were hoping to breed a new wolfhound.

She added that the snake was sheltering itself from the hot weather.    

"If visitors require an explanation, we'd be happy to give it to them," Liu said. 

The zoo, which has more than 20 animals on display, sits inside the city's People's Park and is co-run by the municipal government and a private contractor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.