About half of Colombia’s “cocaine hippos” are getting a new home.
No, this isn’t a sequel to the horror-comedy Cocaine Bear that just debuted at movie theaters. Instead, the “cocaine hippos” are a group of hippopotamuses living in Colombia whose descendants were once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
When Escobar died in 1993, the number of hippos was estimated between 65 to 80. Today, the estimate is between 130 to 160. At the time of his death, officials decided not to remove the hippos from the area because they were too difficult to transport.
However, because they are now an even bigger threat to Colombia’s natural ecosystems, the government has chosen to relocate 70 of the hippos – 60 to India and 10 to Mexico – sometime this year. A study estimates the number of “cocaine hippos” could increase to 1,500 in the next two decades if nothing is done. Controlling the hippo’s reproduction rates with contraceptive darts has not been successful.
“I do not understand what the government is waiting for to act,” said Nataly Castelblanco Martínez, a Colombian conservation biologist and a co-author of the study. “If we don’t do anything, 20 years from now, the problem will have no solution.”
According to Governor Aníbal Gaviria, the goal of moving the hippos is “to take them to countries where these institutions have the capacity to receive them, and to (home) them properly and to control their reproduction.”
María Ángela Echeverry, a biology professor at Javeriana University, said that moving the hippos back into the African wild is not an option because of the pathogens the hippos could bring with them.
“We could be bringing new diseases to Africa,” Echeverry told CNN. “Not just for the hippos that are out there in the wild, but new diseases for the entire African ecosystem that hasn’t evolved with that type of disease.”