Rafael Toro, a student at Venezuela's top veterinary school, suspected something was amiss when a beloved horse called Miss Congeniality didn't greet him at the fence one recent morning along with others in the campus' small herd. The bay-colored mare had earned her nickname for helping disabled students overcome their fear of riding horses. They say she was smart and even trotted up when you called her name. To his shock, Toro discovered the horse's skin and dismembered bones hidden among trees in the corner pasture of Central University of Venezuela's Maracay campus, reports the AP. Thieves overnight had hopped the fence, slaughtered the horse and made off with her meat—either to sell or to feed their hungry families. "I burst into tears," said Toro, who delivered the grim news to other students. "We came here, and together we all cried."
The slaughter isn't an isolated incident. Across Venezuela, where sky-high inflation leaves residents struggling to afford scarce food, crimes of hunger and desperation are soaring. The meat from a full-grown horse could fetch roughly $1,400 at market, making it a lucrative venture in a country where a worker's monthly minimum wage is under $10 at the widely-used black market rate. Venezuelans have traditionally been repulsed by the thought of eating horse meat, making recent developments here especially puzzling, say professors, who suspect customers are buying horse meat at their local butcher thinking it is beef. Toro said crooks previously slaughtered two horses donated to the university, whose budget has been frozen for over a decade, leading security guards to walk off the job. Since late 2016, seven cows have also fallen prey to bandits. (Read more on Venezuela's woes here.)