Colombia said on Wednesday it was making progress 70 hippo transfer in foreign sanctuary, but mitigating the devastation caused by this unusual legacy of deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar carries a hefty price tag: $3.5 million.
Cocaine barons brought a small number of African animals to Colombia in the late 1980s. But after his death in 1993, the so-called Dr “Cocaine Hippos” Released to roam freely in a hot, swampy area of Antioquia department, environmental authorities were helpless to curb their numbers, which now stand at around 150 animals.
Authorities said they plan to capture about half the hippos in the coming months, including 10 at the Austoc sanctuary in northern Mexico and 60 slated for an as-yet-unnamed facility in India.
“The whole operation should cost about $3.5 million,” Ostock Sanctuary owner Ernesto Zazueta told reporters.
He and the governor of the Colombian region Anibal Gaviria, which is home to the hippos, said they plan to lure the animals into pens with bait where they will be held before being placed in special crates for relocation.
Colombia attempted a sterilization program to control the population, but it failed.
The Environment Ministry last year declared hippos an invasive species, opening the door to an eventual hunt.
But the hippo relocation plan is seen as a life-saving measure.
Independent journalist Audrey Huss, who has lived in Colombia for eight years, told CBS News last week that in the 1980s, Escobar imported just four hippos — and now has about 150 of them.
“Because they have no natural predators here, as they would in Africa, the population is increasing and that’s affecting the local ecosystem,” Huss said. “Because they are such large animals, they consume substantial amounts of grassland and produce significant waste, which poisons rivers.”
As a result, hippos kill fish and threaten native species such as manatees, otters and turtles, he said.
In 2021, after the Colombian government was sued for planning to sterilize or kill the animals, a The federal court ruled While hippos may be recognized as people or “persons of interest” with legal rights in the United States, that order carries no weight in Colombia, where the hippos live, a legal expert said.
The area they roam is a paradise for the animals, which have no predators and not enough food and water, CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojarquez Reported in 2019. Locals call them “village pets,” but a local biologist told Bojorquez that they are nothing more than “endangered” and “territorial” species.
Last year, Alvaro Molina, 57, said he supports hippos — even though he’s one of the few Colombians to have been attacked by one. He was out fishing one day when he felt a movement under his canoe that threw him into the water.
“The female attacked me once – the first pair that came – because she had recently given birth,” he said.
Locals say hippos sometimes come out of the water and walk through the streets of the city. When this happens, traffic stops and people get out of their way.