Pablo Escobar has been dead for almost two decades now, but his notorious legacy lives on. As well as laying siege to 1980s Columbia in a wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations, the drug lord has managed to set a herd of hippos loose in the South American country.
At the height of his power in the late ’80s, Escobar imported a group of hippos for his own private zoo. In 1993, after Escobar was killed, many of these zoo animals were relocated to similar locations. However, the so-called “cocaine hippos” were left to roam freely through Columbia, with authorities presuming that they would die out.
Nevertheless, the resilient hippos have not only survived but thrived. They have now multiplied to fill Columbia’s River Magdalena, to an estimated 80-120 hippos – the largest herd of hippos outside their native region of Africa.
While this is a fortunate turn of events for the hippos, their impact on the surrounding environment is not so positive. A January 2020 study published in the journal Ecology has suggested that the hippos are causing serious environmental destruction, and need to be culled. They are negatively affecting the country’s ecosystem through displacing threatened native species, like manatees, and altering the chemical compositions of waterways, which could endanger fisheries.
There have been calls for the hippos to be culled before, and the study claims that the herd’s population could reach 1,400 by 2034, but some biologists are sceptical about the measures.
Enrique Ordoñez, of Columbia’s National University, told CNN that the hippos are considered a vulnerable species by certain NGOs like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They have alternatively suggested an equally effective sterilisation program to regulate the hippo numbers.
The only issues with that plan are the cost (approximately £36,000 per castration), and the difficulties in operating on and maneuvering the hippos, which can weigh up to five tonnes.
Although the cull (or mass sterilisation program) is unlikely to happen soon, this bizarre case just goes to show the far-reaching and serious consequences that thoughtless, rich humans can have on nature.
To read more about the potential cull of Escobar’s “cocaine hippos,” click here.