In the year 1981, drug lord Pablo Escobar brought three female hippos and one male to Colombia. Together with giraffes, elephants and rhinos, the hippos were kept at Escobar’s private zoo at his luxury estate Haciendo Napoles in Antioquia.
After Escobar’s death, the territory that belonged to him was passed on to the government. The animals from Hacienda Napoles were brought to zoos across the country, but the hippos were left at the estate because they were too difficult to move.
The government thought the hippos would die, but they started to reproduce. Those initial four hippos created a population of now, around 120 to 150 African hippos.
The African hippos are living their best life in Colombia as they have no natural predators, and the climate suits them. In Africa, their predators are lions, large crocodiles and hyenas, which are not present in the area where the hippos live in Colombia.
Animal populations are controlled by drought in Africa. However, in Colombia, the climate remains the same throughout the whole year, and there is no drought.
Humans in the area have embraced the hippos, in part because they’re a great attraction for tourists who visit the village of Doradal to ride a boat into the Magdalena River and spot hippos. And they’re living well together, hippos and humans.
“If you don’t hurt them, they won’t hurt you,” Ana Rita Duque Quiceno, who lives in Doradel, told DPA news agency. “We keep a safe distance and take pictures. Nothing has ever happened that way.”
But some scientists say that the hippos might become dangerous to humans and the area’s biodiversity and want a solution, so the population doesn’t keep growing. They’ve suggested killing a large part of the hippo population, but animal rights advocates and the people living with the hippos are against this.
In 2009, a hippo called Pepe was walking in Doradel and was shot and killed. The hippo’s execution was ordered by the government. When a photo of the dead hippo became public, it angered animal rights groups both within the country and abroad, and further plans of killing the animals were cancelled.
The government could look into castration, which is expensive and a difficult process, but the animals will stay alive. So far, ten hippos have been castrated, and four have been brought to zoos.
This story is written by Sara Castano Correa, who lives in Colombia. The Animal Reader is an animal news website and is always looking for writers who want to contribute stories about animal welfare and animal rights in their country. If you’re interested, send us a mail: [email protected]