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Food crisis in Venezuela not just hitting humans, as shocking zoo photos reveal

The animal park in the city of San Francisco is having to sacrifice pigs and goats to be able to feed the other species, as shortages worsen

A malnourished puma in a cage in the zoo in San Francisco.
A malnourished puma in a cage in the zoo in San Francisco. AFP

Animals in a Venezuelan zoo are feeling the effects of the country’s deepening food crisis. At the Zulia animal park in the city of San Francisco, a number of animals are suffering from severe malnutrition, including two pumas who have lost so much weight their bones are clearly visible sticking through their skin. Ducks, pigs and goats have had to be sacrificed to feed the other species in the zoo, which was closed in mid-February after shocking images of the starving animals became public.

An African lion, a Bengal tiger, a jaguar, various ocelots and birds of prey – all carnivorous – are also undernourished, according to zoo workers. “The Bengal tiger was one of the biggest, and the lion was slender because of his old age, but has also lost weight,” they said. A zoo caretaker told local Venezuelan paper Panorama that feline animals should eat between 8% and 10% of their weight each day. But thanks to the food shortage in the country, they eat that amount once a week.

A malnourished tiger in the San Francisco zoo.
A malnourished tiger in the San Francisco zoo.

The two pumas are in the worst conditions. Photos of the animals shared by Panorama have caused alarm: “They were locked up like pets and malnourished. They recovered but with the crisis it seems like they have gotten worse, it looks like they have shrunk,” said the same sources. Management at the zoo has acknowledged the dire situation and blamed it on the “the lack of budget, inflation and food scarcity.”

What I saw in Zulia could only be understood in countries where there is armed warfare

Dr Carlos Silva

A male and female Andean condor, born in captivity and transferred to the park as part of a reproductive plan to save the species from extinction, have gone weeks without receiving enough food. Two crested caracaras were so hungry they ate the other bird of prey in their cage. “A pair of owls did the same thing,” said the zoo workers.

After the situation came to light, the mayor of San Francisco, Dirwings Arrieta, announced that the zoo would be restructured. In a press release, the mayor said that authorities had begun to fix the water system and increase the wages of the workers – without making reference to malnourishment.

Mexican actor and philanthropist Raúl Julia Levy said his foundation in Malibu was willing to help. In a Twitter message addressed to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, he said: “I want to put my foundation at your service to save the animals of all the zoos in Venezuela.”

But after working 13 years as Zulia’s veterinarian, Dr Carlos Silva is not optimistic about the future of Venezuela's zoos.

“What I saw in Zulia could only be understood in countries where there is armed warfare,” he said. “And it’s all over political issues that the animals know nothing about.”

A message from a Mexican actor pleading for the opportunity to give the animals a "dignified life"

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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