Colombia’s Escobar-Era Hippos: Complex Control Measures Enacted

Colombia's struggle to manage 166 hippos, descendants of Pablo Escobar's herd, involves sterilization, relocation, and potential euthanasia due to environmental concerns

Hippo at Hacienda Nápoles

Photo: Alvaro Morales Ríos

The Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: Hipopótamos de la era Escobar en Colombia: se promulgan complejas medidas de control

Colombia faces a unique environmental challenge with a herd of 166 hippos, descendants of a group initially brought to the country by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s. Environment Minister Susana Muhamad recently announced a multi-faceted approach to managing this burgeoning population, which includes sterilization, international transfers, and, as a last resort, euthanasia.

These hippos were part of Escobar's exotic collection at his Hacienda Nápoles estate and have since multiplied in the wild. Their numbers have grown significantly since Escobar died in 1993, leading to concerns about their impact on local ecosystems and communities. The hippos have adapted surprisingly well to the fertile and swampy conditions of the Antioquia region and the Magdalena River, thriving in an environment without natural predators.

Struggles with Population Control

Efforts to control the population have been ongoing for years, including attempts at sterilization and relocating some hippos to zoos abroad. However, these measures need to be revised to curb their rapid growth. The situation escalated when hippos were declared an invasive species last year, a designation that has led to more drastic control measures, including potential culling.

The plan outlined by Ms. Muhamad is cautious and considerate of international regulations. Any exports of the animals for relocation will require authorization from environmental authorities in the receiving countries. Additionally, the ministry is developing a protocol for euthanasia to be used only when other methods are not viable.

The challenge posed by the hippos is multi-layered. Colombian experts have repeatedly warned of these animals' threat to humans and native wildlife. Estimates suggest that, if unchecked, the hippo population could reach 1,000 by 2035. Animal activists, however, raise concerns about the suffering inflicted on the animals by sterilization and the risks faced by veterinarians performing these procedures.

Hippos, known as one of the largest land mammals, are also among the most dangerous. Weighing up to three tonnes, they are responsible for approximately 500 human deaths annually. In Colombia, fishing communities along the Magdalena River have experienced attacks, and there have been incidents of hippos invading populated areas, including a schoolyard.

Pablo Escobar's legacy in Colombia is complex and controversial. Known as the "cocaine king," he amassed a vast fortune through drug trafficking and was involved in numerous crimes, including kidnappings and murders. He briefly surrendered to authorities in 1991, only to escape a year later when a transfer to a more secure prison was attempted. He was eventually killed in a shootout with police in 1993.

Unintended Environmental Impact

The hippos, part of his extravagant menagerie at Hacienda Nápoles, including giraffes, camels, and zebras, were left to fend for themselves post-Escobar's demise. The government handed the hacienda to local communities, but the hippos were deemed too challenging to capture and relocate, leading to their proliferation in the wild.

Today, these hippos represent an unusual legacy of Escobar's reign, a reminder of the unintended and long-lasting environmental impacts of human actions. Colombia's approach to managing this issue reflects a broader understanding of the need for responsible wildlife management and the importance of balancing environmental concerns with animal welfare.

Also read:Gallery: Animals Saved from Extinction in Latin America

In summary, the story of Colombia's hippos is more than a quirky anecdote from the country's turbulent past. It's a real-life example of how introducing non-native species can disrupt ecosystems and pose significant challenges to local authorities. Colombia's measured response indicates a growing global awareness of the complexities of invasive species management and the need for comprehensive, ethical approaches to environmental conservation.

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