Colombia has a new plan to tackle the hippos introduced by Pablo Escobar (Picture: Getty)
Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’ are at risk of a cull as part of ongoing attempts by Colombia to control their soaring numbers.
The country’s environment minister Susana Muhamad said ‘at least 20’ of the animals would be put down this year, while some will be sterilised and others moved abroad.
Escobar, a notorious drug lord and narcoterrorist, imported just four hippos to his Hacienda Napoles ranch in the 1980s. After his death during a shootout with police in 1993, giraffes, elephants, zebras and ostriches were among the other non-native species relocated, but the hippos were deemed too difficult to move.
Many have since escaped the confines of the compound, and this year have reached a record 166 in number.
Colombian authorities have tried a number of tactics to manage the population, including sterilisation and moving them abroad. Earlier this year the government announced that a plan to relocate 70 hippos would cost £2.8 million before unveiling the latest strategy.
Notorious drug lord Escobar imported many non-native species to his estate, which is now a theme park (Picture: Eric Vandeville/Gamma-Rapho/Getty)
‘The first stage of this management plan begins, which next week will show the sterilisation phase of hippos in Colombia,’ said Ms Muhamad.
‘Sterilisation is not the only strategy, nor will it be enough. We cannot control populations with sterilisations alone.
‘The procedure is complex and expensive. For between six and seven hours for each individual.
Hippos at Hacienda Napoles, once Escobar’s private zoo (Picture: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty)
‘It has a follow-up stage for each individual. It has risks for doctors and the animal.’
While the story of Escobar’s out-of-control ‘cocaine hippos’ appears a comical one, the animals pose a very real threat to the local ecosystem.
With no natural predators they have been free to breed, rapidly increasing in number and reproducing more quickly than their African cousins while also stripping away the local vegetation. Hippos eat up to 40kg of grass every day, which results in less food for native species like the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.
The hippos have disrupted the local ecosystem (Picture: Getty)
In addition, waste produced by the hippos can contain harmful bacteria, and also overwhelms the local waterways with nutrients, leading to harmful algal blooms.
It is also thought the hippos’ presence disturbs local Antillean manatees, while fishing communities on the banks of the Magdalena, the country’s main river, have come under attack from individuals.
Colombia’s capybara’s have to compete with the hippos for food (Picture: Getty)
A number of hippos also invaded a school yard.
Last year hippos were declared an invasive species, making it easier for authorities to initiate the cull.
The country attempted a cull in 2009, but a graphic photo of well-known local hippo Pepe being shot caused outrage among locals and activists.
Escobar’s hippos are a long way from their native Africa (Picture: Metro.co.uk)
Authorities warn that, if left unchecked, hippo numbers could reach 1,000 by 2035.
‘Here we are in a race against time in terms of permanent environmental and ecosystem impacts that are being generated and that is why it could not be said that a single strategy is effective for our objective, which is to control the population,’ said Ms Muhamad.
‘The three strategies have to work at the same time.
‘We seek to implement this plan in the shortest time possible, precisely so that the impacts cease.’
Escobar, nicknamed the ‘Cocaine King’, was leader of the Medellin cartel, thought to be responsible for up to 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the US.
They’re prolific breeders.