Over 50 animals at the Caricuao Zoo in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas have starved to death over the last six months due to massive food shortages throughout the country. Animal fatalities have included Vietnamese pigs, rabbits, birds and tapirs, many of which hadn’t eaten for several weeks. An investigation looking into the deaths has been opened, although government officials are denying they were caused by lack of food.
“The story of the animals at Caricuao is a metaphor for Venezuelan suffering,” says union leader Marlene Sifontes.
Food shortages are leaving the animals hungry, and in neighboring cities, the situation has grown even worse. Zoos are often stuck asking for fruit, vegetable and meat donations from local corporations and business magnates. Lions, tigers and other natural carnivores are often forced to eat pumpkins and mangos to make up for the lack of meat, while elephants are witnessed eating tropical fruit instead of hay, a staple of their natural diets.
At a zoo in Paraguana, three additional deaths have occurred. The establishment is now looking to move over a dozen creatures to a separate park where they can be better cared for. Among the animals being moved are six spectacled bears, which are currently eating only half of their daily required intake. Spectacled bears are presently listed as “vulnerable” on endangered species lists.
“We are doing all that is humanly possible to ensure the zoo continues to function,” says accountant Oslander Montoya who handles the zoo’s funding.
Throughout the nation, people routinely find themselves skipping meals and going without in an attempt to deal with one of the largest shortages in the country’s history. Repeatedly, people stand in supermarket lines to chant “We want food!” Residents have also resorted to looting, trying to survive in an economy that continues to turn south. Lagging supplies have been blamed on a global oil price slump and drops in foreign currency, and the nation has few resources to import goods.
“We are eating worse than before,” says Caracas resident Liliana Tovar. “If we eat breakfast, we don’t eat lunch. If we eat lunch, we don’t eat dinner, and if we eat dinner, we don’t eat breakfast.”
Venezuela is also the victim of massive inflation. Dealing with the crisis has left very few choices for several citizens, and many are forced to succumb to the sky-high prices of food items on the black market. Poor or middle-class citizens with less to their names often rely on the nation’s state-run food stores. These establishments help to keep subsidies affordable, but availability is relatively unpredictable.
“You have to get into these never ending lines – all day, five in the morning until three in the afternoon – to see if you can get a couple of little bags of flour or some butter,” says taxi driver Jhonny Mendez. “It makes a person want to cry.”
Approximately 87 percent of Venezuelans are unable to purchase appropriate supplies with their present incomes, while minimum wage only covers about 20 percent of an average-sized family’s needs.