Residents in one department of Colombia are now under threat of being attacked by hippos.
The animals, part of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s legendary Hacienda Napoles – once home to an exotic animal zoo and theme park – have since multiplied since Escobar was shot dead on a rooftop in Medellín in 1993. At the height of his career, Escobar supplied around 80 percent of cocaine to the U.S., making him worth some $30 billion when his career reached its peak during the 1990s.
But while Hacienda Napoles, rather bizarrely, continues to be something of a tourist attraction for visitors in Colombia’s Antioquia department, even to this day, what of Pablo’s hippos?
Drought and dry river beds is forcing the animals to leave more rural areas in search of water, closer to residential areas.
Since Escobar’s heyday, the park’s small hippo population (three females and one male) have multiplied. When the Hacienda was briefly closed after Escobar’s death, the majority of its exotic animals were rehoused in zoos across Colombia. The hippos, it appears, were overlooked, leaving the animals to breed in rivers and wetlands in the surrounding area.
“Since 2005 we have been trying to find them (the hippos) a new home, but nobody wants them, either in or out of the country,” David Valderrama a vet from the organization Webconserva told the BBC in 2014.
“They are incredibly aggressive animals, their behaviour and upkeep isn’t easy, it’s risky for their keepers and their feed is very expensive.”
Sterilization and even euthanasia have been discussed by animal-focused organizations across Colombia, yet to date no drastic action has been taken.
However, scientists continue to be worried for the population around Hacienda Napoles, in particular as many have only seen the animals on television and are unaware of the risks they pose. In some cases, local villagers have even taken the animals into their homes, treating them as a domestic pet.
For now, sedating the hungry hippos could be the only option left to try to capture these animals, which can weigh up to 1,500 kilograms.
Yet with no definite plans revealed, Pablo’s hippos look set to remain in the wild, for now.