Colombia plans to fly dozens of its hippos to Mexico and India. Between 120 to 150 hippos live in the north of Bogota, around the Magdalena River. Officials say the animals threaten local wildlife and people in the area.
“We hope that the permits required by the national institutions can be approved in the first half of this year, so that we can make arrangements for the air shipment,” Aníbal Gaviria, the governor of Antioquia province, told news agency AFP.
The growth of the hippo population “is a complex situation for the inhabitants”, he added.
As part of his private zoo, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar brought a male and three female African hippopotamuses to Colombia in the 1980s. After he died in 1993, the Colombian government left the hippos on his property in Medellín because they were too big to transport. Now there are more than 100 hippos in the area. According to a study in the journal Nature, Colombia could have 1,500 hippos by 2040.
The animals have become a tourist attraction, but the government wants to get rid of them. In February last year, the Colombian government added Escobar’s hippos to a list of “introduced, invasive species.”
“The Ostok Sanctuary International Foundation has expressed interest in relocating a group of 70 hippos from Puerto Triunfo to natural sanctuaries in India and Mexico,” Gaviria said on Twitter.
Around sixty male and female hippos will go to India and ten to Mexico, he said. The hippos will be flown in boxes, Gaviria said in the radio interview, and the animals will not be sedated.
Besides reducing the number of hippos in Colombia, the government hopes to learn how to manage the remaining population. Attempts to sterilize the animals have not been successful.
In October 2021, an American court recognized the Colombian hippos as legal persons able to protect their own interests.