Colombia’s Growing Hippo Problem Is Pablo Escobar’s Deadliest Legacy

Colombia’s Growing Hippo Problem Is Pablo Escobar’s Deadliest Legacy

Hippos fighting in a pond
Hungry hungry hippos Nothing like the game Image Getty

Pablo Escobar has been dead for over two decades but the legacy the notorious drug lord left behind continues to be felt across the country.

Responsible for the deaths of some 7,000 people, assassinations, bribes and intimidation were all part and parcel of Escobar’s empire of fear, with the drug lord painting himself as a Robin Hood of sorts while undermining a democratically elected government at every turn.

Yet arguably his most deadly legacy continues on to this day and it doesn’t involve cocaine, crime, soccer or violence on the streets. It concerns the humble hippopotamus and, while that might sound like an amusing prospect to you and I, it’s getting to be a serious problem.

It all dates back to the early 1980s and Escobar’s idlyic ranch, the Hacienda Napoles, located somewhere between Bogota and Medellin, and the private zoo he had built within its walls.

With money to burn, Escobar had some of the most exotic animals in the world flown in, including four African hippos, one male and three female.

A facility that catered to Escobar’s revolving door of politicians, footballers and celebrities, for a while the zoo was the ultimate party piece.

Pablo Escobar is the subject of Narcos.
The face of the devil. Pablo Escobar.

But everything changed the minute Escobar was gunned down in 1993. Quickly the authorities swooped in, returning many of the zoos inhabitants to their natural habitats far away from Colombia.

All, that is, apart from Escobar’s four hippos. And with little competition and mild weather the Hippos began to thrive, with breeding resulting in a herd of some 35 animals.

Soon they began branching further out to the nearby rivers and surrounding areas. Known for their strength and surprising turn of speed, these hippos posed a serious, potentially fatal, threat to locals.

“Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal”

Under pressure to act on the problem, the Colombian government began rounding up the animals, castrating some to try and stem the spread, but it’s unclear whether the process has worked.

Speaking to National Geographic, David Echeverri, a researcher with the Colombian government environmental agency Cornare, which is overseeing management of the animals estimates that around 28 still live around the Hacienda Napoles.

However, there could be as many as 12 more living in smaller groups in the area and, if unattended, this figure could grow to up to 100.

As Echeverri explains, this growth could have a very bad impact on the ecosystem.

“It is hypothesized that their waste discharges could accelerate the process of eutrophication of lakes [an overabundnace of nutrients, which can lead to blooms of algae or other harmful microorganisms],” he says.

A hippo hiding in the dark.
Be careful That's a hippo Image Getty

“We have seen some possible evidence of this in the form of dead fish, especially when temperatures are high. That may be due to a lack of oxygen in the water [algal blooms result in lower oxygen levels].”

It’s not just the ecosystem that the hippos are threatening to play havoc with either, with Echeverri also concerned about the effects on the natural wildlife.

“We do not have evidence of this but there are concerns the hippos could displace native wildlife, such as otters and manatees. Hippos do tend to be extremely territorial animals,” he said.

And animals aren’t the only ones who should be worried.

“I have personally been part of the capture process and so have witnessed first hand the danger these powerful animals can present,” Echeverri warned National Geographic.

“Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal.”

Pablo Escobar may have been dead for over two decades, but the final chapter in his story may still have yet to be written.

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