Colombia is now polarized on the issue of what to do with the “Cocaine Hippos”, now a bloat of over a hundred hippopotamuses occupying the river basin of Magdalena. No, the animals are not on narcotics but were named such because the entire population descended from the few that once belonged to the notorious narco-kingpin Pablo Escobar.
In 2021, at Hacienda Napoles Park in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia, which was once owned by the druglord Pablo Escobar, a group of hippos were seen floating in a lake. These hippos were originally brought into the estate by Escobar decades ago, consisted of one male and three females. Over time, their population has grown to over a hundred and is now considered a potential danger to the local ecosystem.
Pablo Emilio Escobar, who gained international notoriety as a Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist, was the founder and leader of the Medellin Cartel. He is infamous for his involvement in bribing and murdering Colombian citizens and government officials to facilitate the movement of his narcotic contraband across the country and out into his global network of distributors.
At the peak of the cartel’s activities, it was approximated that they generated a cash flow of more than 50 million dollars daily from drug sales alone. Escobar surrendered to the authorities in 1991 only to escape the following year in 1992 when the authorities attempted to relocate him to a more secure detention facility. This led to a nationwide manhunt with the rest of the world looking on.
Finally, on December 2, 1993, the 44-year old kingpin was felled by three bullets to the head as he stood on his roof in Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia. Considered as the wealthiest drug lord of all time, with an alleged net worth of over 35 billion dollars, his reign ended with a gunshot wound to the head.
Escobar, who at one time was the most wanted man on the planet, who was rumored to have buried billions of dollars all over Colombia, with a majority of his vast wealth remaining unrecovered, has left yet another addition to his long list of predicaments for the Colombian authorities to solve three decades after his death.
Hippos and Other Pets
Escobar was also well-known for his love of big exotic beasts. It comes as no surprise that the alleged billionaire endeavoured to open a private menagerie at his residence in Hacienda Napoles, 100 kilometers east of Medellin. There he had a spectacular collection of animals including zebras, giraffe, rhinos, elephants, ostriches and other species that were not naturally found in Colombia.
In the 1970’s he flew in 4 hippos, one male and three females, all of which were illegal imports to add to his envisioned open-door zoo of exotic animals. Needless to say, he impressed many with his collection.
Unfortunately for the beasts, the Hacienda Napoles was left untended after Escobar’s death, much like many of his properties and holdings, leaving the animals to find for themselves their own means of survival. Most of the animals were too big for trasport and authorities found them difficult to move after the owner’s death so they were left to roam the estate freely.
The hippos escaped the hacienda into the surrounding Magdalena River Basin where a large population of these beasts now reside. They have taken well to the climate and local food chain and what was once a bloat of four hippopotamuses has now become an uncontrollable herd of over a hundred animals. This unexpected branching out of the late kingpin’s violent legacy has continued to reproduce and prosper, eating away at the local ecosystem.
The Magdalena River Basin is part of Colombia’s watershed and is home to many local species that play a huge part in the country’s ecosystem. This ecosystem is now said to be under threat where the hippos thrive, considering them to be overpopulated predators. Native to the sub-Saharan African system these hippos have no natural predators above them in Colombia’s food chain, causing an imbalance in the Magdalena Basin. They have been mating at a steady rate and are expected to continue doing so if left unchecked.
Despite being herbivores and feeding heavily on plants alone, their presence could cause the displacement of the native species, some of which already in the endangered category such as the Antillean Manatee.
Colombia’s local scientific community has declared the hippos as Toxic Invasive Species. The accumulation of their feces in the river water is said to have changed the river’s composition and could impact the habitat of the manatees, capybaras and other native animals who have occupied the river basin long before the hippos’ import.
A debate has ensued over the matter with researchers and citizens weighing in on either side, leaving the government undecisive on the matter.
The research community has laid out a plan to reduce the population of the hippos. This includes culling, castration, relocation to facilities and other such measures aimed to bring the hippo population in the Magdalena River Basin to zero. They are adamant and insist on the government’s swift response as the deteriorating water quality in the watershed is also threatening to affect the local fishing community.
Escobar’s hippos have garnered support from the public, with some believing that the presence of exotic, imported wildlife roamig freely in the area is a fortunate opportunity for the local community. The hippos are also viewed as valuable tourist attractions that benefit the local tourism industry. Additionally, animal activists have taken a stance on the matter advocating for the equal value of the lives of all species, regardless of their origin.
Researchers, however, warned them that even the locals may take matters into their own hands once they start to feel the impact of having this multitude of large animals in their watershed and may resort to killing the hippos themselves.
There is still a great divide on the matter at present but all agree that a decision must be taken swiftly before the ecological damage escalates. We all hope that a plan that is both ethical and effective is soon set into action for the welfare of Escobar’s Hippos and their local neighbors.