A U.S. district court granted a request by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to declare hippopotamuses once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar as “interested persons.”
Known as the “cocaine hippos,” the animals were illegally imported by Escobar to his ranch in the 1980s and were then abandoned after Escobar’s death in 1993. Since then, the number of hippos has increased from 35 to somewhere between 65 and 80.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund requested the hippos get recognized as people, so wildlife sterilization experts could be deposed in the case against the Colombian government who wants to kill or sterilize the hippos, which have become a major threat to people and the environment in the area.
“This really is part of a bigger movement of advocating that animals’ interest be represented in court,” Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Christopher Berry told NBC News. “We’re not asking to make up a new law. We’re just asking that animals have the ability to enforce the rights that have already been given to them.”
Although the hippos are now considered people in the U.S., the designation does nothing for their rights since they live in Colombia. Camilo Burbano Cifuentes, a criminal law professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, says that the ruling has no impact in the South American country.
“[The hippos] only have an impact within their own territories,” he said. “It will be the Colombian authorities who decide what to do with the hippos and not the American ones.”