Calls for culling of Pablo Escobar’s hippos over threats to biodiversity: Scientists

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Scientists are urging the Colombian government to take action against a feral, fast-growing population of Pablo Escobar’s Hippopotami, UK news agency The Guardian reported. The animals are allegedly threatening the area’s biodiversity, and becoming a danger to nearby residents.

The private estate of the notorious drug lord is home to a huge collection of animals that include, giraffes, ostriches, elephants and kangaroos. Illegally imported into the country by Escobar they were housed in his hacienda fortress.

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Escobar established the world’s biggest cocaine empire, in the 1980s.

Killed by police in 1993, Escobar left hundreds of animals to either die or multiply in huge numbers.

Abandoned because of the cost of upkeep for the government, Escobar’s hippos roam free. The UK's The Guardian reported that the cost behind the logistical issues associated with transporting the animals and the violence that plagued the area following Escobar's death were the main reasons behind their neglect.

The government previously tried to control their reproduction, but it made no impact with the population growing unabated. The last eight years has seen the number of hippos grow from 35 to around 65, and up to 80 in some areas around Puerto Triunfo, according to The Guardian.

A group of scientists published a study which outlined the threat the hippos could pose to human, and the area’s biodiversity.

Hippos stay submerged in the lake at the Hacienda Napoles Park in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia. (AP)
Hippos stay submerged in the lake at the Hacienda Napoles Park in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia. (AP)

“I believe that it is one of the greatest challenges of invasive species in the world,” said Nataly Castelblanco-Martinez, an ecologist at the University of Quintana Roo in Mexico, and lead author of a study of the animal group, reported The Guardian.

The university study found that if a culling program is not introduced now, the semi-aquatic specimens’ population could potentially grow to around 1,500 within the next 14 years. This would risk citizen safety.

Last year saw one farmer chased and severely injured by one of the hippos last year, the study noted.

“Everyone asks, ‘Why is this happening?’ Well, imagine a town of 50 people and you perform a vasectomy on one man and in two years on another man, obviously, that is not going to control the reproduction of the entire population,” said Castelblanco-Martinez.

Other findings from the study showed that the surging number of hippos in the region would displace some native animal population, such as Antillean manatees. The University of California in San Diego found that hippos could change water quality in areas in which they spend a lot of their time in.

However the culling of these animals has not been received with much approval by the public because they have grown to love the hippos over the years.

“The community keeps an eye on us to make sure that we are sterilizing and not doing anything else… They love them,” local vet Gina Serna-Trujillo, who has carried out some of the hippo sterilizations herself, she told the UK's news media outlet, The Independent.

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