Colombia has commenced the sterilization of hippos, descendants of animals illicitly introduced into the country by the late drug lord Pablo Escobar during the 1980s. In an effort led by environmental authorities, two male hippos and one female underwent surgical sterilization as part of a broader initiative to manage the population of over 100 hippos that freely roam certain rivers.
The comprehensive plan aims to sterilize 40 hippos annually, relocate some to other countries, and consider euthanasia as potential measures. These hippos, originating from Escobar’s estate, ventured into nearby rivers where they multiplied without natural predators, leading to their classification as an invasive species that poses a threat to the local ecosystem.
Escobar initially imported a group of hippos to Hacienda Nápoles, his private zoo, during the 1980s. After Escobar’s death in 1993, the majority of these hippos now live freely in rivers, reproducing unchecked.
Sterilization efforts face challenges due to the territorial and aggressive nature of these 3-ton creatures. David Echeverry López, head of the environmental office overseeing the plan, emphasized the complexity of capturing the hippos, further complicated by weather conditions. The current abundance of grass, driven by rain events, makes baiting and capturing more difficult.
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The Colombian government estimates the hippo population at 169, particularly in the Magdalena River basin, with projections of reaching 1,000 by 2035 if no interventions are implemented. Acknowledging the expenses involved, approximately $9,800 per sterilization, the environment ministry highlighted potential risks to both the hippos, such as allergic reactions to anesthesia or death, and the personnel involved in the procedures.