MARACAY, Venezuela -- 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.
Professors on campus at Central University of Venezuela in Maracay complain that thieves have walked off with air conditioners and electrical wires, forcing them to teach in dark classrooms with sweat running down their backs.
The meat from a full-grown horse could fetch roughly $1,400 at market, based on the equivalent prices of Venezuelan beef, 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.
"A loss like that is pretty expensive," said professor Daniel Vargas, who oversees the university's cattle program.
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.