Colombia plans to fly dozens of its “cocaine hippos” — the descendants of drug trafficker Pablo Escobar’s private menagerie — to new homes in India and Mexico in a bid to control their burgeoning populations, the local governor said .
There are now between 130 and 160 of the hippos, according to the Colombian government, and they have spread far beyond Escobar’s former ranch of Hacienda Napoles, where they started out as a population of just one male and three females.
The original hippos were part of a collection of exotic animals Escobar collected on his ranch in the 1980s about 250 kilometers (155 mi) from Medellín. After his death in 1993, authorities moved most of the other animals, but not the hippos, because they were too difficult to transport.
But they have since started reproducing rapidly, expanding their range along the Magdalena River basin. They now pose a challenge to the environment and concern for local residents, authorities say.
A study in the journal Nature warned that their number could reach 1,500 within two decades.
Previously, authorities have tried to control their population through castrations and “shots” of contraceptive darts. But the contraceptive drives have met with limited success.
Now there is a plan to transfer 70 of the hippos to natural sanctuaries in India and Mexico, the governor of Antioquia province, where Hacienda Napoles is located, said in a statement. Tweet.
A total of 70 hippos, a mix of males and females, are expected to be relocated – 60 to India and 10 to Mexico.
The technical term for this operation is “relocation,” Governor Aníbal Gaviria explained in an interview with Colombia’s Blu Radio, because it would entail moving the hippos from one country that was not their native habitat to another country that was also not theirs. natural habitat were moved. .
The goal was “to get them to countries where these institutions have the capacity to take them in, and to properly (home) them and control their reproduction,” Gaviria said.
Sending the hippos back to their native Africa was “not allowed,” Gaviria said.
Sending the hippos back to Africa did more harm than good, both for the hippos themselves and for the local ecosystem, María Ángela Echeverry, a biology professor at the University of Javeriana, previously explained to CNN.
“Every time we move animals or plants from one place to another, we also move their pathogens, their bacteria and their viruses. And we could bring new diseases to Africa, not just for the hippos that live there in the wild, but new diseases for the entire African ecosystem that hasn’t evolved with that kind of disease,” Echeverry said.
Aside from reducing hippopotamus numbers in Colombia, authorities hope to learn how to manage the remaining population, which is recognized as a potential tourist attraction.
The hippos will be flown in specially built boxes, Gaviria said in the radio interview, and will not be sedated at first.
But “emergency sedation” is possible if one of the animals is overwhelmed with nerves during the flight, he added.
The move could be completed in the first half of this year if necessary permits are expedited, particularly from the Colombian Institute of Agriculture, Gaviria said.
Hippopotamuses are seen by some as an invasive species that can pose a threat to local ecosystems and sometimes even to humans.
Research has shown the negative effects hippopotamus waste can have on oxygen levels in bodies of water, which can impact fish and ultimately humans.
The journal Nature cited a 2019 article that found lakes where hippos were present had higher levels of cyanobacteria, which are associated with toxic algae. These blooms can reduce water quality and cause massive fish kills, impacting local fishing communities.
Hippos may also pose a threat to agriculture and to human safety, according to a Biological Conservation study published in 2021. Hippos can eat or damage crops and have aggressive interactions with humans.
“Hippos live in herds, they are quite aggressive. They are very territorial and generally herbivorous,” says Professor Echeverry.
Although the “cocaine hippos” are not native to Colombia, the local terrain is believed to be favorable for their reproduction, as it has shallow water sources and a large concentration of food.
So far Colombia has failed to solve a problem that – in Gaviria’s words to Blu Radio – “got out of hand”.
Whether the latest efforts will succeed where birth control efforts have failed remains to be seen.