Story at a glance

  • A federal court order has determined that the offspring of hippos once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escabar can be deemed “interested persons” with legal rights in the United States.
  • The court order is the latest turn in a lawsuit against the Colombian government as the Animal Legal Defense Fund attempts to stop it from sterilizing and killing the hippos.
  • Scientists have warned the Colombian government that the hippos’ growing population threatens the country’s biodiversity and the hippos need to be sterilized or killed.

A federal court order has determined that the “cocaine hippos,” or the offspring of the hippos once owned by notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escabar, can be deemed “interested persons” with legal rights in the United States, The Associated Press (AP) reported. 

The court order is the latest turn in a lawsuit against the Colombian government as the Animal Legal Defense Fund attempts to stop it from sterilizing and killing the hippos.

The “cocaine hippos” are the offspring of those that once belonged to Escobar in Colombia in the 1980s. Following his death, the hippos remained at his ranch and soon began to migrate and reproduce, with its population jumping over the last eight years from 35 hippos to upwards of 80 hippos.

Scientists have warned the Colombian government that their growing population threatens the country’s biodiversity and the hippos need to be sterilized or killed. However, animal rights organizations have filed lawsuits to impede this.


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“This really is part of a bigger movement of advocating that animals’ interest be represented in court,” Christopher Berry, head attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said, according to the AP. “We’re not asking to make up a new law. We’re just asking that animals have the ability to enforce the rights that have already been given to them.”

However, Camilo Burbano Cifuentes, a criminal law professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, argued that the ruling will have little effect in stopping the Colombian government from taking action.

“The ruling has no impact in Colombia because they only have an impact within their own territories,” Cifuentes said, according to the AP. “It will be the Colombian authorities who decide what to do with the hippos and not the American ones.”


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Published on Oct 26, 2021