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Animals Are Starving After Zoo Runs Out Of Food

While Venezuela's collapsing economy has brought thousands of people into the streets, demanding jobs, food, even regime change - countless more victims have yet to find their voice.

Behind the bars and reinforced glass enclosures of the nation's zoos, animals are starving to death, mostly in silence.

In the past six months, around 50 residents of the Caricuao Zoo alone have died, a union leader at the site tells Reuters.

The zoo has simply run out of food. And what scraps remain have been strictly rationed, with animals eating food that isn't part of their natural diet. Lions, for example, are eating mangoes, rather than meat. And elephants are eating tropical fruit instead of grasses or hay.

Some of the reported dead include rabbits, birds, tapirs and pigs. And that doesn't include the possibility that some Venezuelans are stealing zoo animals for food.

While officials have denied reports of animal deaths, calling them a campaign of "lies" meant to discredit the country's socialist government, photos shared on social media tell a different story.

The tragedy is being hailed as a microcosm of the country's economic woes.

"The story of the animals at Caricuao is a metaphor for Venezuelan suffering," union leader Marlene Sifontes told Reuters.

The country, which is under a state of emergency, is reeling from the worst economic crisis in its history.

While that crisis is the obvious factor in the deaths of zoo animals, the tragedy also, once again, brings the issue of captive animals to the forefront.

There's plenty of evidence that animals in zoos are little more than studies in suffering - often even when times are comparatively good. When times are not so good, that suffering, as in Venezuela, becomes even more acute.

In other parts of South America, animals have been luckier: In June, the Buenos Aires Zoo announced it was giving up its animals - 2,500 in all - and turning the sprawling zoo into an ecopark.

"This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals; it's not the way to take care of them," Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta told reporters at the time.

While a group hasn't intervened yet to help the animals at the Caricuao Zoo, you can help captive animals in general by donating to organizations like THE Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) or the Captive Animals' Protection Society.