An elephant is now the lasting symbol of the Venezuelan food shortage crisis.
Just last week, an image circulated of Ruperta, an African elephant living in the Caricuao Zoo in Caracas. In the photo, the elephant is standing in her bare pen looking emaciated, and one can easily count her ribs. According to the zoo, Ruperta’s keepers simply cannot afford to keep feeding her, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to source food anywhere.
But according to President Nicolas Maduro, this viral photo is just a ploy from the right-wing governmental sector as a means to demoralize the Venezuelan people. During his weekly television appearance, Maduro explained that Ruperta’s weight had nothing to do with her extreme starvation. He explained,
“Two weeks ago they [the right wing extremists] began to discuss the beloved elephant Ruperta. She is at an advanced age. They wrote a whole novel, a show and on social media groups begin to say bad things to demoralize the people and children with this.”
However, according to her keepers, Ruperta is either 45 or 46-years old, and since an African elephant can live up to 70 years in captivity, Ruperta is not classified as being “old.” Her keepers believe she is suffering dehydration after eating too much squash, which was their only alternative when the food supply started to dwindle.
Maduro’s blatant refusal of the food crisis is nothing new, except this is the first time he has ever come on nationwide television to claim photographs of emaciated animals were fake. The Venezuelans have been reported to breaking into zoos to eat the animals, as they are the only source of readily available meat in the county. So in reality, it is more than elephants and zoo animals that are starving.
Within the past year, the average Venezuelan person dropped about 20 pounds due to malnutrition and inadequate food supplies. And for the past year, instead of trying to amend the food shortage crisis, the Venezuelan government urged its people to invest in community gardens. Maduro instead put the responsibility of providing food onto the Venezuelan people themselves, telling them to use any patch of soil they could find to grow measly crops.
Compare this to the fact that back in 2014, 35% of all households in America were growing food at home or in a community garden. The difference is that Americans could garden for recreational purposes, whereas the Venezuelans were forced to as a simple means for survival.
Ruperta sadly is not alone in suffering in the zoo — El National reports that a jaguar was recently taken out of its pen for showing signs of malnutrition, and in February, a puma died after being given expired medication.