They were a potent symbol of famed Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar’s immense wealth and ego, but a pod of hippos descended from El Patrón’s original four have escaped from the site of his private zoo and thrived in the tropical Colombian climate, its waterways and rich vegetation.
Now with about 60 offspring of the first two hippos living in the wilds of Colombia – and far away from his now derelict Hacienda Nápoles – vets in Colombia have begun an arduous campaign to sterilize the feisty beasts in an effort to end their reign of consumptive terror on local crops and vegetation.
After Escobar was killed in December 1993, Hacienda Nápoles was turned into a park area, and Colombian authorities found homes for all the animals except the hippos, which can grow to 3,000 lbs and so aggressive and ill-tempered that they are often regarded as the most dangerous mammals in Africa.
Back in March, the Interagency Wildlife Committee of Antioquia (CIFFA) warned about the declining population of hippos in the estate and estimated the number that had migrated to other areas actually hovered around 40.
David Echeverri, a biologist with the committee, said they’ve been sighted as far as 155 miles away from Nápoles, according to the BBC.
Previously there had been talk of moving the hippos back to Africa, but that wasn't entirely practical because they may carry disease. And zoos are typically not interested in acquiring adult specimens.
Local ecologists consulted by the BBC say that creating a reserve with hippo-proof fences would cost about $500,000, and even if sterilization is slated to cost even more Colombian officials deem it as the best option – especially given the fondness for the hippos that has arisen in Colombia.
There have even been some cases of calves being taken home as pets. Five years ago, when authorities shot and killed one of the hippos on the Escobar estate, an ourage ensured and other hippo hunts were called off.
To pay for the pricey serialization campaign – which authorities say is necessary as the hippos pose a public safety risk – the procedures will be funded by money seized from drug traffickers.