Thousands of crocodiles are starving to death on a farm in Honduras after the U.S. government froze the assets of a wealthy family for its alleged involvement in laundering money for drug traffickers.
Reporters visiting the 70-acre Cocodrilos Continental in San Manuel near the city of San Pedro Sula saw emaciated crocodiles and also scrawny lions on the property owned by the Rosenthal family, which is a powerful clan with interests in everything from banking, media and property to tourism, livestock and agriculture.
“The crocodiles and lions are dying of hunger, and we are too because we haven't been paid the last two weeks," one worker who asked to go by the pseudonym José told AFP. "Forty animals have already died. They were taken away in boxes by trucks to be buried.”
There are believed to be more than 10,000 crocodiles on the property.
In early October, U.S. prosecutors charged Honduran sports mogul and former Cabinet minister Yankel Rosenthal with laundering money obtained from drug trafficking and "other illegal activities."
Rosenthal, the owner of first division soccer club Marathon, was arraigned in Miami before U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley.
The soccer club president appeared shackled in court in a prison jumpsuit a day after he was arrested upon arriving at Miami International Airport.
According to prosecutors, the illicit money had been sent from a New York bank account to an account in Honduras between 2004 and 2015.
Also charged in the case are Yankel's uncle, Jaime Rolando Rosenthal Oliva; Jaime's son, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal Hidalgo, and lawyer Andres Acosta Garcia.
Each defendant was charged with one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum 20-year U.S. prison term.
Later in the month, the Honduran government seized 19 businesses belonging to Grupo Continental and five homes of company vice president Jaime Rosenthal and two other relatives accused by the United States of money laundering.
While the crocodile farm is not one of the businesses designated for U.S. sanctions, it has found itself caught up in the freeze affecting other parts of the business empire, as the frozen assets led to the accounts used to pay the workers and buy animal feed being blocked.
Pablo Dubon, an official with the Honduran state Forest Conservation Institute (ICF) said that the local municipality and animal rights groups are working an emergency plan to temporarily care for the animals and that ICF recently delivered 3,000 pounds of chicken meat to the farm. The workers, however, refused to feed it to the animals until they were paid their monthly wages of $340 each.
"The 3,000 pounds doesn't amount to much because a crocodile eats the equivalent of half a horse in a day," said José, the worker at the gate, told AFP. "But at least something is being done.”
According to its website, the crocodile farm was created to export the meat and skin to the United States and also for "preserving the species.” The farm had a yearly budget of $1 million to pay employees' wages and feed the animals.
Employees on the farm said that they were looking for other work because they have not been paid since mid-October, but warned if they left the farm unsupervised neighbors could come and take the crocodiles for food.
The Associated Press and EFE contributed to this report.