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Colombia Pays Millions to Relocate Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

Colombia decides to relocate Pablo Escobar's hippos
Colombia decides to relocate Pablo Escobar’s hippos. Credit: Bernard DUPONT / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Colombia recently announced that it will cost $3.5 million to relocate 70 hippos that once belonged to the deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar to animal sanctuaries in other countries.

In the late 1980s, the drug lord brought a small group of hippos from Africa to Colombia. As a result of his passing away in 1993, the animals, also known as “cocaine hippos” have been allowed to run wild in a hot and swampy area of the department of Antioquia, where the environmental authorities have been unable to keep their numbers under control.

Authorities have stated their plan to capture and relocate almost half of the 150 hippopotamuses in the coming months. Ten of them will be taken to the Ostok Sanctuary in northern Mexico, while the other 60 will be transferred to a sanctuary in India.

“The whole operation should cost around $3.5m,” the owner of Ostok Sanctuary, Ernesto Zazueta said in a statement.

To lure the animals, officials plan to offer them bait and confine them to pens before moving them to special crates for transportation.

Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar. Credit: wikimedia commons / Juan Pablo Escobar CC BY-SA 4.0

Uncontrolled Breeding of Hippos

Since the hippos fled following Escobar’s murder, the government has made many efforts to contain their expanding number, but to no effect. In 2009, it attempted to cull the animals, but the public backlash from a graphic photo caused them to stop.

Although there is a sterilization program in place, the hippos continue to breed faster than they can be caught and castrated by local experts. In the 1980s, Escobar imported just four hippos, but now there are approximately 150, according to Audrey Huse, an Independent journalist who has been living in Colombia for eight years.

Today, about 130 hippos exist in the Magdalena River basin, the largest population outside of Africa. With no natural predators, their population will continue to grow exponentially. A study has estimated that by 2034, the hippo population will be 1,400.

Ecological Damage Due to Hippos

Studies have warned that the hippos are causing ecological damage to the Magdalena, the largest river in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Each hippo consumes about 40kg of grass per night, resulting in their excrement alone polluting the water, killing fish, and threatening the river’s biodiversity.

Audrey Huse said, “Because they have no natural predators here, as they would in Africa, the population is booming and it’s affecting the local ecosystem.” She further said, “Because they are such large animals, they consume considerable amounts of grassland and produce significant waste, which then poisons the rivers.”

Moreover, the hippos are increasingly coming into conflict with the locals, and attacks by hippos have become more common in recent years.

Last year, the environment ministry declared hippos an invasive species, paving the way for eventual culling. However, the hippo transfer program is viewed as a final life-saving solution.

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