Pablo Escobar's Hippos' Descendants Being Sterilized

Colombia fears without action, the animals could number 1K by 2035
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2023 2:30 AM CST
Colombia Begins Mass Hippo Sterilization Project
FILE - Hippos float in the lagoon at Hacienda Napoles Park, once the private estate of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar who imported three female hippos and one male decades ago in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.   (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

Colombia on Tuesday began the sterilization of hippopotamuses, descendants of animals illegally brought to the country by late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, the AP reports. Two male hippos and one female underwent surgical sterilization, environmental authorities said. It is part of a larger government effort to control the population of more than 100 of the mammals that roam around unsupervised in some rivers. The plan includes the sterilization of 40 hippos a year, transferring some of them to other countries, and possibly euthanasia.

The hippos, which spread from Escobar's estate into nearby rivers where they flourished, have no natural predators in Colombia and have been declared an invasive species that could upset the ecosystem. A group of hippos was brought in the 1980s to Hacienda Nápoles, Escobar's private zoo that became a tourist attraction after his death in 1993. Most of the animals live freely in rivers and reproduce without control. The government estimates there are 169 hippos in Colombia, especially in the Magdalena River basin, and that if no measures are taken, there could be 1,000 by 2035.

Sterilization takes time, because spotting and capturing the territorial, aggressive 3-ton animals is complicated, David Echeverry López, chief of the environment office in charge of the plan, said in a video distributed to the press. Rain in the area has complicated efforts to capture the animals. More grass means "they have an oversupply of food, so baiting them to capture them becomes even more complicated," Echeverry said. The procedure is also expensive—each sterilization costs about $9,800—and entails risks for the hippopotamus, including allergic reactions to anesthesia or death, as well as risks to animal health personnel.

(More Colombia stories.)

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