In their homeland of Africa, they are responsible for more human deaths than almost any other animal, but in Colombia, hippos have become beloved members of local communities and tourist attractions. But this is in a city near the city of Medellin Legacy of late drug lord Pablo EscobarGrowing is creating a problem, and experts think that could soon be fatal.
Recently, the so-called one “Cocaine Hippos” An explosion occurred in the courtyard of a school in Doradal where both students and parents were present. “Mothers get scared when they see an animal of this size,” teacher Duniya Arango told AFP.
This time, the invited guests were surprised by some fruit trees before going to the neighboring fields. But a herd of hippos has nested in a lake just 20 yards from the school.
“There are about 35 children playing that could have caused a tragedy by approaching them,” said David Echeverri, an official from the local environment authority.
Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images
“Although they may appear very calm, at any moment, due to their highly unpredictable behavior, they may attack, as has happened before,” he added.
John Aristides, 33, remembers well the afternoon in October 2021 when he was fishing in a creek when a hippo “swooped up at me and hit me on the head with its beak.”
He slips and bites the arm trying to escape.
“It caught me and threw me two meters,” he added. “It didn’t rip my hand off because they have very wide teeth.”
But Aristides still spent a month in hospital recovering.
It’s the closest Colombia has come to a fatal encounter but “if we don’t do anything, expect thousands of hippos to roam in the future”, said Etcheverry, who buried an injured hippo two weeks ago. by a driver.
After cocaine kingpin Escobar was shot and killed by police in 1993, his private ranch and collection of exotic animals, including hippos, were released into the wild with abundant vegetation and no predators.
Independent journalist Audrey Huse, who has lived in Colombia for eight years, told CBS News that in the 1980s, Escobar imported only four hippos. Hippo numbers have exploded and now around 160 of the two-tonne beast roam freely around this part of northwestern Colombia.
“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.
A study by the National University estimated that the local population of hippopotami could increase to 1,000 by 2035.
Biologists say native animals such as the manatee, classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, have been displaced.
Last year, the Ministry of Environment declared hippos an “invasive species”, opening the door to a possible solution to the growing problem.
Fisherman Alvaro Díaz, 40, takes tourists by canoe on the Magdalena, Colombia’s longest river, to see hippos.
When he notices that the hippos are upset, he keeps his group at least 30 meters away.
“We see them often … we live peacefully with them,” he asserted.
Diaz believes, however, that hippo populations need to be controlled through castration and contraceptive devices.
Local environmental agencies tried both, but Echeverri claimed they were “expensive and ineffective”.
Echeverri says that “killing them in a technically correct manner, without pain, is not easy either” because it involves first capturing and sedating them.
To save the hippos, the state of Antioquia, where Doradal is located, announced a plan to transport 70 hippos to wild sanctuaries in Mexico and India.
The plan — which experts say will cost about $3.5 million — only needs approval from national authorities in three countries.
Echeverri believes the project is “feasible and necessary” because he has already led a project to capture seven hippos and send them to zoos inside Colombia.
Farmers complain of damage to their crops, but locals have become fond of the animals.
“Don’t take them all. It’s become our culture to live with them and it’s great to have this population with us,” Arango said with a glance at his students.