Some 50 animals have starved to death in the last six months at one of Venezuela's main zoos as chronic food shortages continue to plague the crisis-stricken South American nation.
The fatalities at the Caricuao zoo in Caracas include Vietnamese pigs, tapirs, rabbits and birds - some of whom had not eaten for two weeks, according to Marlene Sifontes, 52, a union leader for employees of state parks agency Inparques which oversees zoos.
She said lions and tigers in the zoo in Caracas were fed mango and pumpkin to make up their meat rations. An elephant is eating tropical fruit instead of its usual diet of hay, the union leader added.
No food for all
Other animals are at risk across the country. Their troubles mirror those of Venezuelans who routinely skip meals or spend hours in supermarket lines, at times chanting "We want food!" or even looting, amid an unprecedented economic downturn in the OPEC nation.
"The story of the animals at Caricuao is a metaphor for Venezuelan suffering," said Sifontes.
Authorities have not given numbers, but state prosecutors have opened an investigation into the deaths of "various species of wildlife" at the zoo.
The zoo's management declined comment.
Venezuela is on the brink of economic collapse. President Nicolas Maduro blames the local opponents and USA for lodging an "economic war" against his country. His critics say heavy reliance on oil, the price of which has fallen steeply, and unsustainable economic policy are to blame. Now the country is grappling with food and medicine shortages.
In La Laguna, a park in the western state of Tachira, administrators said they had to seek donations from local businesses to get fruit, vegetables and meat for the animals.
"We are doing all that is humanly possible to ensure the zoo continues to function," said Oslander Montoya, an accountant for the local municipality which handles funding for the zoo.