Colombia to sterilize Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The Colombian government has decided to sterilize the rapidly expanding population of hippos, descendants of those originally owned by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. After Escobar’s death in 1993, the four hippos he had imported began to reproduce extensively, leading to a current estimated population of around 170. This burgeoning hippo population has raised concerns about the impact on the local ecosystem.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environmental minister, expressed urgency in addressing the environmental implications of the growing hippo population, stating that there’s a race against time to prevent lasting ecological damage. The World Wildlife Fund classifies hippos as vulnerable, but in Colombia, they face no natural predators, leading to their uncontrolled proliferation.

To manage the situation, Colombian officials have outlined a threefold strategy: sterilization, euthanasia, and relocation of the hippos. They have already begun this process, having sterilized four hippos and planning to sterilize 40 each year through tranquilization and surgical procedures.

Escobar, who led the Medellín Cartel and controlled a significant portion of the cocaine trade in the 1980s, initially brought the hippos from a breeding center in Dallas to his Hacienda Nápoles ranch. The hippos, along with other wildlife, became a notable feature of the ranch. Despite some researchers initially believing that the hippos could positively impact the local ecosystem, they were ultimately classified as an invasive species.

The issue of the hippos’ fate gained international attention when one was fatally struck by an SUV earlier this year. Officials now estimate that, if unchecked, the population could surge to 1,000 by 2035.

In a groundbreaking legal case in 2021, the Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully argued to prevent the euthanization of the hippos, leading them to be recognized as the first nonhuman creatures legally considered as people. This unique status has added a layer of complexity to the ongoing efforts to control their population.