Story at a glance

  • A herd of up to 120 hippos whose ancestors were smuggled into Columbia by the drug lord are now running wild along the banks of the Magdalena River.
  • Colombian authorities have decided to start a mass sterilization effort to deal with the animals shortly after a U.S. court declared the animals people.
  • The animals are the only hippos to live in the wild outside of Africa.

The descendants of four hippos that Colombian cocaine drug lord Pablo Escobar smuggled into the country in the 1980s are now hurting the country’s ecosystem. 

The hippos Escobar purchased first lived in his private zoo, but the pack was set free after his death in 1993, according to the BBC. Their descendants now roam free north of the city of Bogotá along the River Magdalena and are considered the largest invasive species on earth, according to The Washington Post.


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Biologists now estimate there could be as many as 120 hippos roaming the waterway, according to a podcast from The Guardian, and fear that the population could quickly reach 1,000 given the fact there are no yearly droughts in Colombia and the animals have no natural predators in their newfound home. 

"It is obvious that we feel sorry for these animals, but as scientists we need to be honest," Colombian biologist Nataly Castelblanco, an author of a  study on the animal’s impact on the country’s ecosystem, told the BBC. "Hippos are an invasive species in Colombia and if we do not kill a part of their population now, the situation could be out of control in just 10 or 20 years."

According to The Guardian, experts worry that the animals’ presence will start to impact other large animals that live in the River Magdalena, like the West Indian manatees and crocodiles. Their feces have already started to negatively affect the water in the river, killing some species of fish. So authorities have decided to cull the animals to keep their numbers from growing. 

Officials are also concerned about the threat the animals pose to humans, according to the podcast episode. In Africa, every year hippos kill about 500 people a year making them the most dangerous animals on the planet, according to National Geographic.

The Colombian hippos, jokingly referred to as Escobar’s “cocaine” hippos, seem to be less aggressive than their African counterparts, according to The Guardian, since there have only been two documented incidents of the animals attacking people in the country so far.


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Published on Dec 06, 2021