Colombia intends to undertake an unprecedented task in the country by trying to transfer to India and Mexico at least 70 hippos that live in the surroundings of the Hacienda Nápoles, which belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar, as a measure to control its population.
The hippos, territorial and weighing up to three tons, have spread far beyond the Hacienda Nápoles – located 200 kilometers from Bogotá – along the Magdalena River. Environmental authorities estimate that there are approximately 130 specimens and, given their reproductive capacity and absence of a natural predator, they could reach 400 in eight years.
The plan to take them to India and Mexico has been consolidating for more than a year, Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, manager of Animal Protection and Welfare at the Antioquia Environment Secretariat, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
First, the official said, they must capture them by luring them with food and then take each individual in a “guacal” —a kind of iron container— to be transferred by truck overland on a 150-kilometer journey to the José María Córdova international airport in Rionegro, from where they would leave for India or Mexico.
“It’s possible; We already have experience relocating hippos in zoos nationwide,” David Echeverri López, a spokesman for Cornare, the area’s environmental authority that would be in charge of carrying out the process, said in a video released Thursday to the press.
One of the biggest problems with the transfer of hippos is the high cost of the operation. The plan is to send 60 hippos to the Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Gujarat, India, which De los Ríos Morales said would cover the cost of the containers and airlift.
Another 10 specimens would go to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico such as the Ostok, located in Sinaloa. “We work with Ernesto Zazueta, who is the president of sanctuaries and zoos in Mexico, who is the one who has liaison with different countries and who manage their rescues,” said the official.
Given the proportions of each hippopotamus, they will try to capture young specimens that have not yet reached the maximum weight of their adulthood in order to send 30 individuals on each plane.
However, the permits that the Ministry of the Environment in Colombia must grant to start the process are still pending. The goal is to achieve the transfers in 2023.
At the moment, they do not plan to transfer the hippos that are inside the Hacienda Nápoles because they are already in a controlled environment and the priority is the individuals that colonized the surrounding lands, putting the native Colombian ecosystems at risk.
Aníbal Gaviria, governor of Antioquia, the department where the hippos live, said the day before in front of deputies that the plan has an “environmental content, but also defense and protection of animals and the civilian population.”
The hippos that today inhabit Colombia, so far from their native Africa, are descendants of the four calves that drug trafficker Escobar brought to his private zoo in the 1980s. With the death of the drug lord in 1993, the ranch became years later into a tourist attraction and dedicated himself to conserving the species.
However, the situation has gotten out of control and, in 2022, the government declared hippos an invasive alien species to later define prevention, control and management measures for the species.
Their eventual shipment to India and Mexico would serve to help control the population, but providing “dignified treatment and life in an appropriate place for them, without resorting to extreme measures as some have required when being declared an invasive species, which is the extermination,” added De los Ríos Morales.
Daniel Cadena, PhD in Biology and Dean of Sciences at the Universidad de Los Andes, assured the AP that since the problem began years ago with only four hippos, it is “unfeasible” that a single initiative focused on a fraction of the current population be a solution. enough to solve it. He added that scientists who have studied the issue from a technical perspective have highlighted the need to implement a mixed strategy, which for some should include hunting for control.
“Although this worries animal defenders, it must be understood that wild animals also have rights that are at risk due to this invasive species, which is a threat to the conservation of species and ecosystem services in the Magdalena river basin, of which that the well-being of humans also depends,” Cadena explained.
Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana have also expressed their willingness to transfer hippos to their countries, according to the Antioquia Governor’s Office.
Connect with the Voice of America! Subscribe to our channel Youtube and activate notifications, or follow us on social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.