As CBS News reports, the hippos originally came from Escobar’s former ranch Hacienda Napoles, and have been multiplying ever since the late drug lord illegally imported just four of them from Africa in the ’80s. The hippos have since moved further from the ranch, and have made their home along the Magdalena River. According to environmental authorities, there could be as many as 130 hippos in the Antioquia province and that number could rise to 400 in less than a decade.
When the drug lord was fatally shot by police in 1993, his ranch was left abandoned and the hippos were able to reproduce in the rivers nearby. Since they do not have a natural predator in Colombia, where they have been able to thrive due to favorable climate conditions, scientists said they pose a problem for biodiversity in the area because their feces could change the composition of rivers. They were declared a toxic invasive species by Colombia’s government last year, as they pose a threat to the habitat of capybaras and manatees among other native animals.
The Colombian government was sued over plans to sterilize or even kill the animals in 2021, and it resulted in the hippos being legally recognized as people with legal rights in the United States. Biologists have in the past called the species “territorial” and “dangerous,” although some locals have described them as “village pets.” Hippos are known to cause more human deaths than any other sizable animal in Africa, but there have been no documented attacks in Colombia so far.
If Colombia’s plans to export the hippos is a success, they will be transported to Mexico and India in an effort to control their populations. Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal protection and welfare at Antioquia’s environment ministry, said the plan would be to focus on transporting the hippos living in the rivers rather than the ranch, because the latter remains a controlled environment. They would need to be lured into large containers that would then be taken to an international airport for flights to India and Mexico.