A Tale of 4 Hippos and A Ticking Time Bomb

Hippos grazing by a river. Credit: gonomad


Pablo Escobar smuggled 4 hippos -three females and one male – into Colombia in the 1980s. When he died in 1993, Colombian officials dismantled his vast estate. They took most of the wild animals to zoos. The officials left the hippos to roam the land because they were afraid to approach the huge, aggressive animals. Today, in place of the Escobar’s estate, stands an amusement park where locals can visit the lake where the hippos stay.

One act by the former drug kingpin led to a menace for Colombian scientists. They view them as an invasive species that will destroy the ecological balance. Bogota’s locals view the hippo as an unofficial mascot, despite the human-wildlife conflicts that occur from time to time.

According to a study, hippo numbers will rise to 1,500 by 2040. Scientists are running out of options to deal with the ballooning problem.

It’s illegal to kill hippos in Colombia. Low budgets for environmental agencies and lack of enough information have slowed down efforts to sterilise them. The animal’s anatomy also plays a role in aggravating the problem. Male hippos can retract their genitalia and female genitalia is even harder to find, making it hard for scientists to sterilise many at a time.

One scientist, David Echeverri, got shocked when his team tried to trap a hippo using carrots and fruits.

When he felt like he was enclosed, he jumped, crushing the wooden barrier and escaping into the trees. I didn’t know they could jump.

David Echeverri Lopez, a researcher at a regional environmental agency in Colombia

With an estimated hippo population growth of 10% annually and no immediate solutions in sight, only time will tell how much havoc 4 hippos can really make.

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