Scientists Debate the Fate of Pablo Escobar’s Rogue Hippos

Pablo Escobar’s hippos are starting the debate in Colombia again. In the 1980s, Colombian cocaine kingpin scattered millions of survivors at a private zoo in Hacienda Nápoles, four of which were illegally imported hippopotamuses. When Escobar died in 1993 and his empire collapsed, most of his property was confiscated by Colombian authorities, but the hippos were relocated to the Marshland of Colombia. Although native to Africa, the hippos have made their home in the vicinity of the Magdalena River Basin in Colombia. 

In recent years, conservationists have become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of hippos, and some have suggested that the species has become an “invasive mega-backbone” for South America. In a new study published in the Journal of Biological Conservation, a team of scientists wanted to assess the risk of this invasive species and offer some ideas on how to deal with rogue animals.

The introduced hippo population has grown from 35 in 2012 to 60 to 80 in 2020, in relation to the main quadrupeds imported by Escobar. According to new research, the population is growing at an annual rate of 14.5 percent and by 2039 the population size could reach 1,418.  Researchers have noticed that these giant animals can have dramatic effects on the waterways of any ecosystem. Hippies mainly pop and urinate in river water which can significantly increase the water concentration of phosphate and nitrogen. As a result, it can have a profound effect on the microbial life of rivers, potentially in favor of the growth of toxic cyanobacteria.

Hippos can take refuge in a variety of zoonotic diseases and parasites that can pose a risk to other species of wildlife. The study noted: “Some of these diseases or parasites may have been transmitted from hippos to wild and domestic animals and eventually to humans.” On top of this environmental risk, hippos also pose a risk to the local community. They may have fourteen images but hippos are considered to be the most aggressive animals and the most deadly animals in Africa. While the extent of the problem is not clear, researchers say there are some key reports, anecdotes and video clips about hippo attacks on Colombian people.

Considering how fast the hippo population is growing, they argue that these problems will deepen over the years. To solve the problem, they suggest the implementation of a strategy that will see the “extinction” of 30 hippos each year in 2033 to move towards population eradication. This is basically a polite way of saying that hippos should be killed until the population is eradicated from South America. After researchers realized this controversial concept, they argued that other efforts to manage the hippo population, such as sterilization, had been flattened.

The study concludes, “Strategies need to be implemented quickly to control the effects of the expansion of this introduced species. Our estimates suggest that the only course of action that may lead to the extinction of this exotic species is to implement high-level extraction through culling.“However, since the hippo is a highly charismatic species, this method is not without controversy.”