Colombia will begin sterilizing, relocating, and euthanizing “cocaine hippos” in a bold move to address the burgeoning population descended from those once owned by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Currently numbering 166 individuals, these hippos pose a significant ecological threat as they continue to multiply uncontrollably.
According to calculations by Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment, there could be as many as 1,000 hippos in Colombia by 2035 if their reproduction is not curtailed.
The hippos wereoriginally brought to Escobar’s Napoles hacienda in the 1980s as part of his extravagant private zoo.
But they have since established a thriving population in one of Colombia’s most important waterways.
The hippos have dramatically altered the local ecosystem, competing with native species, contaminating the water with their excrement, and posing a security risk to nearby communities.
Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s Environment Minister, unveiled the government’s strategy, which will be executed in several stages.
The initial phase will involve the surgical sterilization of 40 hippos per year, beginning next week. This procedure is costly, with each sterilization costing approximately $9,800 – and IT comes with some risks. The operation carries a risk of death or allergic reaction to anesthesia for the hippos and poses risks to the medical staff involved. Furthermore, the animals’ territorial and often aggressive behavior makes the operation challenging.
To mitigate the population explosion, Colombia is also exploring the possibility of relocating some of the hippos to other countries. Authorities have initiated discussions with officials in India and the Philippines, with India a possible destination for 60 of these animals.
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As a last resort, the ministry is developing a protocol for euthanasia.
According to Muhamad, this extreme measure underscores the urgency of the issue and the government’s commitment to protecting the local ecosystem and communities from the hippos’ detrimental effects.
Notably, the Mexican government has declined a proposal to take in some of the hippos, citing unsuitable conditions for their housing.
Hippos also do not have any natural predators. This has made controlling their population even more difficult. However, despite this difficulty, the Colombian government has not made it legal to hunt these large beasts.
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Not all experts and advocates agree with the methods proposed by the Colombian government. Some argue for the creation of sanctuaries or nature reserves where the hippos can live without harming the environment. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the introduction of hippos into new ecosystems, potentially leading to genetic and health problems for local wildlife.
Nicolás Escobar, one of Pablo Escobar’s nephews, spoke to local Colombian media about the government’s plan to euthanize some of the hippos. He said the government should “respect their lives because they are animals that are not to blame for what happened and take advantage of the animals for tourism, so that the people who live on the banks can take people to see them, so that they can generate profitability”.
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