Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’: Colombia proposes new answer


BOGOTA, Colombia — The drug lord Pablo Escobar gained worldwide notoriety for the cocaine he smuggled out of Colombia.

Less acquainted is what he smuggled in. In the late Nineteen Seventies, the billionaire Medellín Cartel kingpin acquired 4 hippopotamuses, reportedly from Africa or the United States, to go together with the elephants, giraffes and antelopes on the non-public zoo on his property in western Colombia.

When Escobar surrendered to authorities in 1991, the federal government seized his Hacienda Nápoles property — and allowed the animals to roam free.

In the 30 years since, the unique hippos — three females and a male — have multiplied to greater than 130. Hippos aren’t native to South America. Without pure predators, the aggressive, territorial animals have settled into the Magdalena River in central Colombia.

Now the insatiable herbivores are devouring plants, crowding out native animals, polluting soil and water, and threatening folks. (Hippos are among the many world’s most harmful animals, able to killing a human with a single chunk, answerable for an estimated 500 deaths every year.)

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You’ve heard of Cocaine Bear, the 500-pound black bear in Georgia that overdosed on Colombian powder tossed from a drug smuggler’s airplane? These are Escobar’s cocaine hippos: larger, extra quite a few, deadlier. The Environment Ministry right here final yr labeled them an “invasive species” and banned their copy and commercialization. But the talk over whether or not to preserve or kill them goes again a long time.

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To some right here, the big mammals have change into quirky, roguish people heroes. But “just wait and see,” stated David Echeverri, from the regional environmental company Cornare. “Once they start attacking and killing people, it’ll all change.”

By 2040, if the invasive species is left alone, the inhabitants might attain 600.

Now authorities say they’ve an answer.

Authorities in Colombia’s Antioquia division, dwelling to each Medellín and Escobar’s property, plan to seize about 70 of the animals and ship them to sanctuaries in India and Mexico.

Sixty are to be flown to the Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Gujarat, India. The relaxation are to go to the Ostok Sanctuary in Mexico. Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana are lining up for future shipments.

(Escobar was held within the non-public jail constructed to his specs below a take care of the federal government to keep away from extradition to the United States. The facility, known as the Cathedral, reportedly included a bar, soccer discipline and telescope so the drug lord might see his daughter in her Medellín dwelling whereas they spoke by phone. He walked out of the power in 1992 and was shot to dying by nationwide police the next yr.)

Planning for the hippos’ relocation started a yr and a half in the past, when Sara Jaramillo, an entrepreneur right here who works in animal welfare, requested the Ostok Sanctuary in Culiacán, Mexico, dwelling to round 400 animals, together with deer and jaguars, whether or not it will be concerned with taking a few of them in.

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As people keep indoors, wild animals take again what was as soon as theirs

“We started to seek resources and make arrangements,” stated Ernesto Zazueta, president of the Ostok Sanctuary. “Not everyone is willing to transfer and keep them.”

Zazueta stated his group is getting ready a facility to carry the ten hippos out of public view. They gained’t be let free, he stated: “Otherwise what happened in Colombia would happen in Mexico.”

Effective methods to deal with the hippo downside have proved elusive. In 2009, the federal government greenlit a “controlled hunt” of a few animals. Federico Pfeil-Schneider, an skilled hunter escorted by the navy, killed one.

Then the picture of its carcass surrounded by proud troopers sparked outrage. Fans named it Pepe; some grieved the loss.

At that time, the inhabitants was lower than three dozen. But politicians dallied, and the numbers ballooned.

A decade in the past, Echeverri launched a sterilization program. To date, 13 hippos have been sterilized and 5 have been relocated to native zoos.

“Do we consider those figures a success?” he mused. “Well, capturing and castrating them is so complex, so dangerous and takes so long that the answer should be yes. But it’s not an effective measure.”

Female hippos can beginning one calf each two years. The inhabitants is reproducing sooner than people have been sterilized.

In the previous two years, Cornare has added one other method: the chemical contraceptive GonaCon, supplied by the U.S. authorities. It’s utilized by dart rifle on women and men alike.

Last yr, they administered it to 38 hippos — however they don’t have any concepts which of them.

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“Tracking them down is a titanic task,” Echeverri stated. Cornare has tried marking them with paint, satellite tv for pc markers and collars, however the hippos, one way or the other, have been capable of take away all of them. This yr, the company plans to load the darts with tattoo ink.

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Sending the hippos overseas will probably be costly. Zazueta, of the Mexican sanctuary, additionally acted as a liaison between Colombia and the Indian sanctuary. He stated authorities will constitution cargo planes, able to carrying 20 to 30 hippos, from the Belarusian firm Rada Airlines. A flight to Mexico might value $400,000; to India, will probably be $900,000.

Each hippo is to be contained in a particular picket crate that would value as much as $10,000. Maintaining a person prices roughly $2,500 monthly.

“The resources for all of this come from Mexico and India,” Zazueta stated. He stated they’re involved concerning the animals’ well-being; that they’re the progeny of Escobar’s pets is nothing to brag about.

An Argentine documentary producer will probably be filming the entire course of.

Lina de los Ríos, a spokeswoman for the regional authorities, stated it is a “valuable strategy to preserve these animals, as we don’t believe their extermination is the right solution.”

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