Pablo Escobar died of a gunshot wound during a 1993 shootout at his hideout in Medellin, but Pablo did not go down without leaving a very strange parting gift to his homeland: a bunch of hippos that escaped his private zoo, became feral and started terrorizing Colombian fishing towns.
Colombia is planning a ”cull,” a word which means the selective slaughter of certain animals, of a portion of the 166 hippos descended from four hippos which escaped from Escobar’s compound after his death. The animals have taken over a large swath of territory in the Magdalena River where they’ve been designated as an invasive species. They’ve taken over fishing communities and even invaded a school yard at one point but no one was killed, according to information published by the BBC.
Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said the Colombian government would be working to sterilize about 20 of the hippos and they may also be forced to euthanize others. Hippos have yet to kill anybody in Colombia but they’re considered very dangerous animals. Adult male hippos can grow to be as large as three tonnes and BBC Wildlife estimates hippos kill about 500 people a year, compared to 22 killed every year by lions. Colombian scientists estimate the hippo population could grow as high as 1,000 over the next decade if measures aren’t taken to curb the population.
“Obviously we feel sorry for those animals, but as scientists we have a duty, to be honest,” said Columbian biologist Nathalie Castelblanco to the BBC. “Hippos are an invasive species in Colombia and if we don’t kill some of their population now, the situation could get completely out of control in just 10 or 20 years.”
According to the BBC, hippos have no natural predators in Colombia and no shortage of natural resources to consume. Thus, the population has rapidly and exponentially expanded in recent years. The hippos were officially designated as an invasive species in Colombia in 2022, and were previously declared “interested persons” by the United States government in a somewhat bizarre attempt to prevent their eradication in Colombia. Indeed, hippos now enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens, but only on American soil as it turns out.
“The ruling has no impact in Colombia because they only have an impact within their own territories. It will be the Colombian authorities who decide what to do with the hippos and not the American ones,” said Camilo Burbano Cifuentes, a criminal law professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia to the Associated Press in 2021.
Other options for dealing with the hippos have essentially tried and failed to curb the population growth, including sending a number of them to zoos around the world and a previous round of sterilization. Those efforts failed to make a dent in the uncontrolled hippo reproduction, however, and Minister Muhamad said they must now as a government develop euthanasia protocols for the animals as a last ditch option.
“We are working on the protocol for the export of the animals,” Minister Muhamad said. “We are not going to export a single animal if there is no authorisation from the environmental authority of the other country.”
Pablo Escobar was one of the most wanted men on planet Earth at the time of his death and peak of his cocaine empire in 1993. His purported crimes included countless murders, kidnapping, bribery, extortion and drug trafficking to name a few. He evaded capture for years. He even convinced the Colombian government to let him serve a short sentence in a prison he built for himself rather than turn himself in. Later on, however, he went back on the run to avoid being jailed in the U.S. and a $2 million bounty was put on his head. He was shot dead by police on a rooftop in Rionegro on December 2, 1993.
Pablo’s 5,500 acre mega compound in Antioquia, which included his private zoo, was given to the poor and largely left unattended after his death. The hippos were allowed to roam free because they were considered too burdensome to deal with or capture at the time. There were also camels, zebras and giraffes in the zoo, though it was not immediately clear what happened to the other animals after Escobar was killed.