Colombian authorities have said the cost of transferring 70 of Pablo Escobar’s imported hippopotamuses will cost up to £2.8million as they look to avoid a mass sterilisation programme. Roughly 130 to 150 hippos roam the hot, marshy area of Antioquia after years of their thriving without a natural predator and the effect on the local biodiversity has been devastating. Colombian authorities have struck a deal with Indian and Mexican sanctuaries to have 70 of them removed, but the cost will be in the millions.
After Escobar’s death in 1993, the hippos have been left to roam freely, with environmental authorities helpless to curb their numbers.
Authorities said they plan to capture and move nearly half of the hippopotamuses in the coming months, with 10 bound for the Ostok Sanctuary in northern Mexico, and 60 destined for an as-yet-unnamed facility in India.
Ecuador, the Philippines, and Botswana also expressed willingness to take the hippos.
“The whole operation should cost around $3.5million,” Ernesto Zazueta, the owner of the Ostok Sanctuary said.
He and the local governor of the Colombian region that is home to the hippos say they plan to lure the animals with bait into pens, where they will remain confined before being put in special crates for the transfer.
Since the hippos escaped after Escobar’s death, the government has repeatedly failed to tame the booming population who have made the Magdalena River basin their home.
In 2009 it tried culling the animals but stopped after a graphic photo sparked national outrage.
A sterilisation program remains in place but the hippos breed faster than local experts can find, catch and castrate them.
From the original four hippos that escaped from Escobar’s country estate has grown the largest hippo population outside of Africa.
With no natural predators to keep them in check their population will keep growing exponentially. One study estimated that by 2034 the hippos will number 1,400.
Studies have warned that the hippos are damaging the ecosystem in the Magdalena – the largest river in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Each hippo eats about 40kg of grass a night meaning their excrement alone is poisoning the water, killing fish and jeopardising the river’s rich biodiversity.
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The hippos are also increasingly coming into conflict with the local people and hippo attacks have become more common in recent years.
Lina Marcela de los Rios Morales, director of animal protection and welfare at Antioquia’s environment ministry, has been leading these efforts.
She said the plan was to focus on the hippos living in rivers surrounding the ranch, not those inside the ranch as they are in a controlled environment.
Escobar was one of the world’s most notorious outlaws, responsible for an unprecedented number of drug-related deaths and a bomb attack in Colombia.
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