Colombia floats new plan to deal with ‘cocaine hippos’

At least 70 descendants of the animals smuggled by Pablo Escobar are set to get relocated to India and Mexico

Colombia plans to “translocate” some 70 of its so-called ‘cocaine hippos’ overseas, the governor of the country’s northwestern department of Antioquia, Anibal Gaviria, announced on Thursday. The animals, arguably the most bizarre legacy of the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, will be sent to India and Mexico.

Currently, Colombia has an estimated population of 130 to 160 hippos, Gaviria told local Blu Radio. Some 70 of the animals, a mix of males and females, are expected to be relocated to Mexico and India in the first half of this year, with the latter country set to receive 60 of the hippos, the governor said.

The hippos will be transferred into their new home by plane, put inside specifically-built ‘crates,’ Gaviria added. The looming operation has been primarily payrolled by New Delhi, he revealed, noting that the new host countries “have the capacity to receive them, to accommodate them properly and to control their reproduction.”

Regarding Colombia itself, the transfer would drastically reduce the current hippo population, making it easier for the government, long-struggling with the issue, to control the remaining animals. The authorities are seeking to establish a sanctuary for hippos in the country, according to Gaviria, to be able to safely “keep the animals, control their reproduction and risks to the population.”

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Colombia’s hippo problem originates in the 1980s, when Escobar smuggled four animals, one male and three females, for the private zoo at his ranch of Hacienda Napoles, full of exotic – and illegal – species. After the drug kingpin was killed in a firefight with police in 1993, all the animals, except for the hippos, were relocated by the authorities, as the large mammals were deemed too bulky and difficult to transport.

Left alone, the ‘cocaine hippos’ thrived in the country’s moist and warm climate, with their population exploding and spreading well beyond the former ranch of Escobar. The animals have become popularly known as the ‘cocaine hippos,’ promptly becoming an environmental hazard and a deadly threat to locals, as well as making Colombia the only country outside Africa to have a wild hippo pack.

According to a study, published back in 2021, the hippo numbers could have ballooned to some 1,500 specimens if left unchecked. At the same time, environmentalists warned against a transfer of hippos to Africa, as the move would likely do more harm than good, both for the hippos themselves and local African animals, potentially exposed to foreign diseases.

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