Over 20 years after his death, Pablo Escobar's hippos are thriving in the rivers of Colombia and causing trouble as invasive species.
At the time of his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar had amassed a fortune in the tens of billions of dollars through the drug trade. With this money, he built an opulent estate complete with a fully stocked zoo. While most of the animals in the zoo were removed after his death, Pablo Escobar's hippos still roam free and are rapidly multiplying in central Colombia.
These hippos are potentially the physically largest invasive species anywhere in the world. With no predators and ample food, the rivers of Colombia are proving to be an ideal habitat for the hippos. Biologists estimate that between two and three dozen hippos now live in Colombia, all of which are descended from the original four (three cows and a bull) brought illegally to Colombia by Escobar.
Unfortunately, Pablo Escobar's hippos, which are now the largest herd of wild hippo outside of Africa, are starting to cause problems for the people in the area along with the native wildlife. Hippos are the most dangerous large animal in Africa and they kill an estimated 500 people each year. They haven't actually hurt anyone in Colombia yet, but it is probably just a matter of time until it happens.
Furthermore, their impact on the native ecosystems in the area is of more immediate concern. According to David Echeverri Lopez, a Colombian biologist:
If they get aggressive they pose a risk to Colombian biodiversity. They could displace native fauna. It is an invasive species and very resistant to everything. They carry diseases that can kill livestock. They pollute the water courses where they defecate.
Scientists see only two realistic ways to deal with the hippo population: castration and euthanasia. Neither will be easy.
Killing the hippo seems to be a good option at first. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine foreign hunters paying to go hippo hunting in Colombia for one of Pablo Escobar's hippos. This would not only help deal with the hippo problem, but it would also help offset the costs of repairing some of the damage these creatures have done to the native ecosystem.
However, the Colombian Army killed a rogue hippo in 2009, but howls of protest erupted from animal rights activists. Even though they are an invasive species and threaten to cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem, more animal rights protests are expected if the government kills any more of Pablo Escobar's hippos. For this reason, the government is leery of taking this option.
The other route the Colombian government could take would be to castrate the bulls in the existing population. In theory, this is a good idea and would prevent Pablo Escobar's hippos from continuing to reproduce. Then, the problem would eventually go away as the hippos die of old age in the future.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. For one thing, castration is expensive and difficult. Cows and bulls are tough to tell apart and, for this plan to work, every single bull must get castrated. Miss one and it was all for naught.
Whatever decision the Colombian government makes regarding Pablo Escobar's hippo, they must do it soon. The population is continuing to grow and there have even been reports of hippo sightings over 100 miles from Escobar's old estate, indicating the animals are starting to spread out, which would make dealing with the problem just that much more difficult.
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