"Cocaine hippos" are taking over Colombian marshlands, forcing scientists to control the population before they dramatically impact the country's ecosystem.
The animals were illegally imported into the country by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar at the height of his reign. Since Escobar's death in 1993, the hippopotami have been rapidly breeding, becoming the largest invasive species on the planet. If the trend continues, the population could reach "dangerous numbers" within the next 20 years. As a result, lethal measures must be taken.
"Nobody likes the idea of shooting a hippo, but we have to accept that no other strategy is going to work," ecologist Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez told the Telegraph. "Relocation might have been possible 30 years ago, when there were only four hippos. ... Castration could also have been effective if officials had provided sufficient resources for the program early on, but a cull is now the only option."
When Escobar was killed, the authorities took over his 7,000-acre estate which included a personal zoo. While most of the animals were able to find homes, four of Escobar's hippos escaped. Since there are no natural predators, these four created between 80-100 descendants that are terrorizing the country’s lakes and rivers. By 2024, scientists project the population could jump to 1,500 if not treated seriously.
Along with taking over the country's waterways, the hippos pose a threat to the natural wildlife because their urine and feces are toxic and sickening to other animals and humans. The government is now rushing to eradicate the population before things get out of hand.
"These hippos have become part of the local identity. But time is running out," government environmentalist David Echeverri Lopez said.