Pablo Escobar's Hippos Run Amok in Colombia

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In the 1980s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar built himself a zoo, because even brutal gang leaders love fuzzy animals. Escobar smuggled exotic animals into his personal zoo, including one male and three female hippos. Escobar died 20 years ago, leaving his zoo to, well, the animals. 

As it turns out, the Colombian climate is just perfect for hippos. Today, Escobar's zoo has lead to the birth of between 50 and 60 hippos. Most of the hippos live in the man made lakes in Escobar's zoo, but some have broken free and caused trouble. Fishermen on the river are scared of them, as they can do damage to their small fishing boats. Farmers are frustrated because the hippos destroy crops and even crush small cows. 

In Africa, their homeland, seasonal droughts prevent too much breeding, keeping population sizes small. But in Colombia, the warm, wet weather is perfect for year-round mating. Scientists have found that breeding in Colombia also starts much earlier. While African hippos breed between the ages of seven and nine, Colombian hippos get started at the young age of three. A San Diego University ecologist told BBC, "It's just like this crazy wildlife experiment that we're left with. Gosh! I hope this goes well."

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There has been some discussion of what to do with the herd of rogue hippos, but there doesn't seem to be a good plan in the works. They cannot be sent back to Africa, as they might carry diseases specific to Colombia. Zoos don't want the adult hippos. Castration might work, but it's very difficult to execute and expensive. Hippo proof fences seem like the best idea, but they are $500,000 a pop. 

One biologist in the Amazon suggested barbecuing and eating the hippos, however, Amazonian locals have strict superstitions when it comes to eating aquatic creatures. When fisherman began cutting up pink dolphins, which live in the Amazon, locals reminded them of the myth. As per the myth, pink dolphins turn into handsome men at night to woo the local townswomen. This means eating the 'magical' pink dolphins is extremely bad luck. While hippos (probably) don't turn into handsome men at night, barbecuing them certainly doesn't seem like a good idea either. You would really have to want a hippo burger to try to take one of these giants out. 

This week, Colombia partially banned alcohol sales due to the rowdiness that occurred during World Cup matches. About 14,000 accidents were reported, leading to the ban, and we would be very interested to find out how many were hippo related. At least one or two must be. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.