Colombian local authorities consider sending 70 wild hippos to Mexico and India

To reduce the population of wild hippos in Colombia, authorities of the department of Antioquia are considering sending some of the animals abroad. Brought in illegally by former drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, the country declared hippos an invasive species last year.

Hippo in water

Aníbal Gaviria, the governor of the Colombian department Antioquia, on March 1, they were working on the transfer of wild hippos outside the country with Mexican partners.

Antioquia, and more precisely near Puerto Triunfo and the Magdalena river, is home to approximately 130 hippos, a species native from Africa that has been prospering so much in Colombia in the last decades the country declared hippos an invasive species last year.

Four hippos, three males and one female, were initially brought in illegally to Colombia in 1984 by former drug trafficker Pablo Escobar to his ranch, the Hacienda Nápoles, near Puerto Triunfo.

The ranch was abandoned for years after the police killed Mr. Escobar in 1993. However, hippos survived, reproduced, and settled in local rivers enjoying favorable climatic conditions and no predators to prey on young ones.

Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles has now turned into a theme park, including a water park and an animal sanctuary hosting wild animals from monkeys, parrots, elephants, and zebras to hippos.

But hippos began showing up in the wild a decade ago around Puerto Triunfo, a 17,000-people town near Magdalena river. Colombia is the only country outside Africa where hippos live in the wild.

Scientists warned they are a potential problem for biodiversity, could impact the habitat of native species, and become a threat to crops and humans. Hippos are considered one of the most dangerous animals to humans, although only a few injuries have been recorded so far in Colombia.

In forty years, the population of wild hippos is estimated to have reached more than 130 and is projected to be 400 in eight years.

Consequently, in March last year, the ministry of Environment declared hippos invasive species in Colombia, which would allow the allocation of financial resources from the national government to manage the population. But a year later, apart from an experimental program of immuno-castration and the sterilization of a female by ovariectomy, there is yet to be a clear plan to control a population scattered in more and more areas.

So, last week, two Mexicans very active on their social media channels, Ernesto and Amado Zazueta, shared they visited the area to “rescue the invasive hippos.”

The father and son manage the Ostok Animal Protection & Sanctuary located in the State of Sinaloa in Mexico. Ernesto Zazueta is also the president of Azcarm, a civil association working on wildlife preservation with zoos.

They met Lina Marcela De Los Rios, in charge of the protection and welfare of animals in Antiquiotia’s Secretariat of Environment and Sustainability, and the Cornare, a local environment protection entity working on the management of the hippos, to discuss a solution for the animals.

The two Mexicans showed their interest in transferring 70 hippos to Mexico and India, according to the governor on March 2 (he talked about 60 hippos during an Assembly meeting the day before). Ten hippos would be sent to their sanctuary in Mexico. They would send the 60 other animals to another park in India.

The transfer costs, according to rough estimates from the Cornare, could amount to one million dollars.

Mr. Gaviria now pushes for approval from the ministry of the Environment and the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) to make these potential unprecedented moves a reality. But transferring wild animals into parks or dealing with private parties can be controversial.

However, such a transfer would require massive logistics work and preparation, and the process is still in an early phase as the Zazuetas have only shared their intentions in taking the hippos for now. Nothing has materialized yet, said Cornare biologist David Echeverri to El Colombiano.

People from Ecuador or India already did the same without going any further.

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