PHOTO CREDIT Miguel Rodríguez
Last week, groups of intruders broke into Caricuao Zoo in Caracas, Venezuela, pulled a rare black stallion from its cage, and slaughtered him there on the spot. They left behind only his head and ribs, which zookeepers found in the morning when they entered to care for the lone horse.
Earlier this month, Vietnamese pigs and sheep that called the zoo their home were stolen by citizens for food as well.
If the animals aren’t being stolen and butchered to feed the starving Venezuelan citizens, they’re dying from starvation themselves, as the zoos’ food shipments are few and far between.
Marlene Sifontes, a union leader at INPARQUES, the government agency that runs the Caricuao Zoo, told Reuters in a recent interview:
“The situation that our zoo is going through is very sad. We have animals that have not eaten for up to 15 days, which affects their health.”
Many animals have been showing signs of emaciation, and over the last six months over 50 animals have died in the nation’s main zoos. Among the deceased are Vietnamese pigs, tapirs, rabbits and birds. The zookeepers have resorted to feeding the animals food that isn’t in their normal diet; lions and tigers are eating pumpkin rather than meat and elephants are eating tropical fruit instead of hay.
Their situation is similar to those of the Venezuelan citizens, who wait in long lines at supermarkets everyday hoping to find severely overpriced meat, rice, and chicken. This is why they have resorted to eating the animals at the zoos.
The food shortage is being caused by economic policies that involve strict price controls and foreign exchange controls that make it unprofitable for businesses to import or produce food to then sell to consumers. The government has said nothing of trying to change these laws, but instead suggested making private sector employees with agriculture experience to leave their jobs and work for state-run farms.
In the meantime, the food shortage is worsening for both animals and humans, but a dozen animals at one zoo are going to be transported to other zoos to ensure their safety. For the remaining animals and humans, safety from starvation or other hungry people is something they are no longer promised in their own country.