police official said two collared peccaries, which are similar
in appearance to boars, were stolen over the weekend from the
Zulia Metropolitan Zoological Park in the sweltering city of
Maracaibo near the Colombian border.
"What we presume is that they (were taken) with the intention of
eating them," Luis Morales, an official for the Zulia division
of the National Police, told reporters on Tuesday.
The chaotic collapse of the country's socialist economic model
has created chronic food shortages that have fueled malnutrition
and left millions seeking food anywhere they can find it,
including in trash cans and dumpsters.
President Nicolas Maduro blames food shortages on opposition
protests that have blocked streets and highways and a broader
"economic war" led by adversaries with the help of Washington.
But zoo head Leonardo Nunez said a wave of thefts that in recent
weeks had affected 10 species including a buffalo, which he said
was cut into pieces, was orchestrated by "drug dealers" seeking
to sell the animals.
"They take everything here! The animals weren't stolen to be
eaten," Nunez said in an interview on Wednesday.
Mauricio Castillo, a former zoo director, said thieves had made
off with two tapirs, a jungle animal that is also similar to a
pig that is described as vulnerable to extinction by the
International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Shortages have also left zoos without sufficient food to feed
animals, with some 50 animals starving to death last year at a
Caracas zoos, according to a union leader.
The government denied the animals had starved, insisting they
had been treated "like family."
(Additional reporting by Isaac Urrutia in Maracaibo, Writing by
Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Marguerita Choy)
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