Venezuela food shortages leave zoo animals hungry

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Venezuela's starving zoo animals
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Venezuela's starving zoo animals
Donated food for animals is seen at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Visitors stand next to a lion cage at the Caricuao Zoo in Caracas, Venezuela July 12, 2016. Picture taken July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A capuchin monkey eats a piece of papaya at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An employee gives vitamins with a syringe to a capuchin monkey at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A worker puts papaya on the floor for the spider monkeys, at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A green macaw is pictured at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Employees stand next to donated food for animals at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An employee walks with tapirs at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Peccaries are pictured at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An Andean bear stretch its claw inside a cage at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An employee gives vitamins with a syringe to a capuchin monkey at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A lion sleeps inside a cage at the Caricuao Zoo in Caracas, Venezuela July 12, 2016. Picture taken July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An employee gives papaya to an Andean bear at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A macaw is pictured at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A jaguar chews a piece of meat the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A spider monkey eats a mango at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A puma is pictured at the Caricuao Zoo in Caracas, Venezuela July 12, 2016. Picture taken July 12, 2016 REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
An employee gives vitamins with a syringe to a capuchin monkey at the Paraguana zoo in Punto Fijo, Venezuela July 22, 2016. Picture taken on July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A monkey is pictured eating a sandwich at the local zoo in Caracas, Venezuela July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
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CARACAS (Reuters) - Some 50 animals have starved to death in the last six months at one of Venezuela's main zoos, according to a union leader, due to chronic food shortages that have plagued 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.

Other animals are at risk across the country.

SEE ALSO: Venezuelan schoolchildren express hunger in drawings

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.

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Authorities have not given numbers, but state prosecutors have opened an investigation into the deaths of "various species of wildlife" at the zoo.

Currently, lions and tigers at the Caracas zoo are being fed mango and pumpkin by anxious staff to make up for reduced rations of meat, while an elephant is eating tropical fruit instead of its usual diet of hay, the union leader said.

The zoo's management declined comment.

President Nicolas Maduro blames the country's problems on an "economic war" waged by local opponents and the United States.

His critics say heavy reliance on oil, the price of which has fallen steeply, and unsustainable economic policy are to blame.

As with all shortages in Venezuela, the situation for zoos is worse outside the capital, though wardens are looking for ways to keep animals alive.

SEE ALSO: Resource-rich Venezuela struggles to keep lights, taps on

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.

Three animals died in May at a zoo in Paraguana, on the northwestern Falcon peninsula, the director said.

Staff there are planning to move a dozen animals, including vulnerable spectacled bears, to another park in the Andean state of Merida. The zoo's six bears are currently eating just half of their required 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds) of food every day.

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