It was recently declared that hippos are an invasive species in Colombia. Environmentalists are divided between those who believe they should be slaughtered and those who don't
LatinAmerican Post | Vanesa López Romero
Pablo Escobar is remembered for many things. He was one of the most important criminals of all time, he founded the Medellín Cartel, he terrorized Colombia for years with kidnappings, murders and bomb attacks and, at the same time, he became famous in his community for reaching out to the most vulnerable, so much so that he managed to become a Member of the Colombian Chamber of Representatives for Antioquia.
Escobar is also remembered as an eccentric man. At some point it was believed that he was one of the richest men in the world. One of his most recognized properties is Hacienda Napoles, in the middle Magdalena, where he kept all kinds of animals: camels, giraffes, ostriches, pink dolphins, hippos, among others.
Today, almost 30 years after his death, the legacy of the most feared drug lord in the history of Colombia continues to give people something to talk about, and these days, above all, they talk about that last animal, Pablo Escobar's giants.
What happened to the hippos?
After his death in 1993, all of Escobar's possessions were seized by the Colombian authorities, including the Hacienda Napoles. This had been almost abandoned for several years due to the deterioration that the capo had had in power. However, due to the environmental conditions of the area, the animals had been able to continue subsisting.
After legal fights over who would keep the farm, in 2004, it came under the National Narcotics Directorate (an entity that no longer exists), which decided to build a prison and capture and deliver the animals to local and foreign zoos. However, the hippos were something else. His capture, in addition to being a millionaire, was extremely difficult, so they stayed on the farm. Years later, they even approached the closest towns, causing panic.
To this day, and after many comings and goings, there are more than 20 hippopotamus specimens and they were recently declared an invasive species in Colombia.
To sacrifice or not?: The two positions
According to the publication "Hippopotamuses in Colombia: The invasion process, advances from research and management needs" of the Humboldt Institute of Colombia, this species represents an environmental risk because the ecosystem has not had the opportunity to adapt to these giants. The population rate of the species has been increasing since the 1980s, and due to their large size they have created alternate channels "allowing the incorporation of nutrients such as organic matter and ammonia, to the water tributaries."
On the other hand, the encounter with humans and domestic species has generated concern among experts, since this is very common and can end very badly, with the death of a human. As for wild species, animals such as manatees and otters have been relegated from their territories that are now under the power of hippos.
With the news that the species is considered invasive in the Latin American country, what is the best option comes under discussion. It is believed that if action is not taken, by 2050 the population of hippos in Colombia may reach 400, so now the authorities have hunting within their range of options.
Until now, castration of males has been sought to stop reproduction. But to date, 11 males have been surgically sterilized. Another 40 have been sterilized from a drug called GonaCon, according to Cornare, the environmental protection entity in the country.
But this process is long and, above all, expensive. The population continues to grow and is getting out of hand.
For experts such as Nataly Castelblanco, a biologist specializing in manatees (one of the species affected by hippos, as we have already mentioned), "native species have conservation priority over invasive species" and "the lethal control of some individuals,” he clarified on Twitter.
Siempre regresamos a la misma conclusión: la castración y confinamiento son medidas posibles, pero no suficientes para la erradicación de los #hipopótamosinvasores en la Cuenca del Magdalena. Se debe contemplar además, el control letal de algunos de los individuos.— Nataly Castelblanco (@N_CastelblancoM) February 6, 2022
But for animalists, and even people from the communities where hippos roam, hunting these species is animal cruelty and the life and integrity of a species that simply It is not his fault that he ended up in Colombia.
In 2007, Pepe, one of the hippos named by the community, was hunted by order of the Regional Corporation of Antioquia. The community was upset by this, and after protesting, the regional authority suspended the hunt and in 2012 a court ruled a popular action to prohibit the hunting of these animals.
So today, despite being an invasive species, the hippopotamus is legally protected. However, with the declaration of an invasive species, there will be the possibility of creating actions to stop the growth of the population.