At the height of his criminal empire, Escobar built a zoo on his nearly 3,000-hectare Hacienda Nápoles in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia. To that sanctuary he brought many the exotic animals including four hippos that made the extravagent property a sensation.
After his death in 1993, and with the end of his drug cartel, the animals at Escobar’s zoo were left uncontrolled in an environment that was not their own, so they jumped the fence and set off to find homes of their own.
They settled in the plains of Magdalena Medio to which they quickly got used to. The favorable conditions of the terrain, irrigated by the waters of the Magdalena River, the main river in Colombia, allowed their little family to survive and rapidly expand.
The huge pachyderms thrived in their new self-chosen farm, but as time went by they became a danger to the fauna, flora and farmers of the region. One man suffered serious injuries when he was attacked in 2020 while fumigating a pasture.
Authorities estimate there are now 169 hippos in Colombia, especially in the Magdalena River basin, and that if no measures are taken, there could be 1,000 by 2035.
Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said the first stage of the plan will be the surgical sterilization of 40 hippos per year and this will begin next week.
The procedure is expensive — each sterilization costs about $9,800 — and entails risks for the hippopotamus, including allergic reactions to anesthesia or death, as well as risks to the animal health personnel, according to the ministry. The hippos are dispersed over a large area and are territorial and often aggressive.
Experts say sterilization alone is not enough to control the growth of the invasive species, which is why the government is arranging for the possible transfer of hippos to other countries, a plan that was announced in March.
The governor of Antioquia province, Aníbal Gaviria, assured that the Ostok Sanctuary International Foundation had expressed its interest in transferring the animals. There was talk of relocating a group of 70 hippos from Puerto Triunfo to natural sanctuaries in India and Mexico.
There were some hopes of sending a couple of hippos to Ecuador, but the Government of Ecuador stated on February 4 that its Organic Environmental Code prohibits the importation of exotic wildlife. So Ecuador, having recently learned that Bogotá was evaluating the possibility of sending 72 hippos born in that nation to Mexico, India and Ecuador has formally rejected the idea of hosting any hippos.
Besides which, who really wants hundreds of hippos pooping in their rivers?
Sources: VOA, www.primacias.ec