March 30, 2023

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Pablo Escobar plans to send hippos to India and Mexico

Colombia wants to carry out an unprecedented mission in the country by trying to relocate at least 70 hippos living in the vicinity of Hacienda Napoles, owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar, to India and Mexico in a move to control its population.

The three-ton hippos are spread beyond Hacienda Napoles – 200 kilometers from Bogotá – along the Magdalena River. Environmental officials estimate there are approximately 130 specimens, and due to their reproductive capacity and lack of natural predation, they could reach 400 in eight years.

The plan to take them to India and Mexico has been coordinated for more than a year, Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, animal protection and welfare manager at the Antioquia Environment Secretariat, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

First, they must capture them by luring them with food, then truck each individual in a “guacal” — a type of iron container — on a 150-kilometer journey over land, the official said. airport in Rionegro, from where they will depart for India or Mexico.

“It’s possible; we already have the experience of relocating hippos in zoos across the country,” David Echeverri Lopez, spokesman for the region’s environmental authority, Kornar, said in a video released to the press on Thursday.

One of the biggest problems with hippo transplants is the high cost of surgery. De los Rios Morales said the plan is to send 60 hippos to the Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Gujarat, India, which will cover the costs of containers and airlift.

Another 10 specimens will go to zoos in Mexico and sanctuaries such as Ostac, located in Sinaloa. “We are working with Ernesto Jazueta, head of sanctuaries and zoos in Mexico, who is in contact with different countries and manages their rescues,” the official said.

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Considering the proportions of each hippopotamus, in order to send 30 people on each flight, they try to catch young specimens that have not reached the maximum weight of an adult.

However, permits from Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment are still pending to begin the process. The goal is to achieve transfers by 2023.

At this time, they do not plan to relocate the hippos inside Hacienda Napoles, as they are already in a controlled environment, and primarily because individuals colonized the surrounding lands, endangering native Colombian ecosystems.

Aníbal Gaviria, the governor of Antioquia, the department where the hippos live, told delegates earlier in the day that the plan “has environmental content, but also the safety and security of the animals and the public.”

The hippos living in Colombia today are the descendants of four calves that drug lord Escobar brought to his private zoo in the 1980s. With the drug lord’s death in 1993, the farm became a birdhouse years later. Attracting tourists, he devotes himself to the conservation of species.

However, the situation has gotten so out of control that in 2022, the government declared hippos as an invasive alien species and then defined prevention, control and management measures for the species.

Sending them to India and Mexico will help control the population, but “give them decent treatment and a life where they deserve it, without resorting to the extreme measures some require when declared an invasive species, extermination,” De los Ríos Morales said.

Daniel Cadena, PhD in biology and dean of science at the Universidad de los Andes, assured the AP that since the problem started with just four hippos years ago, an effort focused on a fraction of the current population would be “impossible.” One solution is enough to solve it. Scientists who have studied the problem from a technological perspective highlight the need to implement a mixed strategy, which for some includes the hunt for control.

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“While this worries animal conservationists, it must be understood that wild animals also have rights that are endangered by this invasive species, which threatens the conservation of species and ecosystems in the Magdalena River basin, on which the existence of humans also depends,” Catena explained.

Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana have also expressed interest in relocating the hippos to their countries, the Antioquia governor’s office said.