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Tags Current Affairs

Escobar’s Hippos

Date: 18 February 2021 Tags: Biodiversity


Colombia is struggling to manage with another troubling aspect of Escobar’s legacy– feral hippopotamuses that are threatening the country’s fragile tropical ecology.



Escobar had many extravagances, one of which was collecting exotic wild animals at his villa. His private zoo boasted of a variety of animals illegally imported into the country, such as kangaroos, elephants, giraffes, and hippos.



  • When Escobar was killed in 1993, most of the animals on the sprawling estate were rounded up and distributed to zoos across the country, except his four hippos which authorities found too difficult and expensive to transport.

  • The hippos multiplied to 16 by 2007, 40 by 2014, and are currently estimated to number between 90 and 120 over an area of more than 2,250 sq km.

  • Within a decade, their population is expected to grow to 200, and thousands in the next few decades. Colombia’s hippo herd is now the biggest outside Africa.

  • The ‘cocaine hippos’ are thriving in the fertile region between Medellín and Bogotá, and are now spreading in the Magdalena River, one of the country’s main waterways.

  • A reason for their growing numbers is that unlike in Africa, the hippos have no natural predators in Colombia.


Demand for their culling

  • Being non-native in Colombia, the hippos are considered an invasive species, and their growing population is believed to be a ticking time bomb that will seriously harm indigenous flora and fauna.

  • They are considered to be a threat to local species such as the West Indian manatee, Neotropical otter, spectacled caiman, turtles as well as endangered ones such as Dahl’s toad-headed turtle and the Magdalena River turtle. 

  • The hippos have caused levels of nutrients and cyanobacteria to go up in the lakes that they inhabit, which can lead to toxic algae blooms and die-offs of aquatic fauna.


Resistance from public

  • Despite the negative impacts that several studies have attributed to the feral hippos, the exotic animals are hugely popular among locals, and the government has imposed a ban on hunting them.

  • For many local people, the hippos are a source of revenue from tourism, and culling them is an unpalatable idea.

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