Puerto Ricans aren’t the only ones feeling the bite of the island’s ongoing economic crisis, with animals in one of its largest zoos struggling to survive.
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Severely understaffed and underfunded, the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayaguez is hanging by a string. The 45-acre zoo has been issued dozens of violations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, citing deteriorating exhibits and poor conditions.
“It makes you want to cry,” animal rights activist Susan Soltero told the Associated Press.
“This is unacceptable to me as a human being.”
Among the citations listed are animals living in confined spaces, limited working fans for deer and camels, expired food and medicines and a tiger that was underweight and had gone without a medical exam or lab test for two years.
According to a recent report from the USDA, the tiger was suffering from kidney failure and other health problems and was euthanized in June. That same month, five lion cubs also died.
Puerto Rican park officials cite declining public funds as one of the main problems behind the zoo’s dilapidated conditions. Since its 2016 implementation, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, has ushered in neoliberal austerity policies intended to “save” Puerto Rico from its over US$73 billion debt.
Among these policies are cuts to public landmarks, like the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo.
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“No government agency is hiring people. We are working with what we have,” Gerardo Hernandez, auxiliary secretary of Puerto Rico’s National Parks Program, told the Associated Press.
“If we had more revenue, there would be more improvements.”
The fiscal control board created by PROMESA has been criticized for deepening Puerto Rico's colonial relationship with the United States, as it has control over the island's finances as well as the authority to construct its own fiscal plan if it sees the governor’s plan as insufficient.
Activists plan to launch a volunteer-run animal welfare program in August to address the zoo’s issues, according to the Associated Press.