BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Colombia is proposing to transfer at least 70 hippos living near Pablo Escobar’s former ranch – descendants of four imported from Africa illegally by the late drug lord in the 1980s – to India and Mexico as part of a plan to control their population.
The hippos, which are territorial and weigh up to 3 tons, have spread far beyond Hacienda Napoles’ ranch, located 200 kilometers (124 mi) from Bogota along the Magdalena River. Environmental authorities estimate that there are around 130 hippos in the area in Antioquia province and their population could reach 400 in eight years.
Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles – and hippos – have become something of a local tourist attraction in the years since the kingpin was killed by police in 1993. When his ranch was abandoned, hippos survived and reproduced in local rivers and favorable climatic conditions.
Scientists warn that hippos do not have a natural predator in Colombia and are a potential problem for biodiversity since their droppings change the composition of rivers and can affect the habitat of manatees and capybaras. Last year, Colombia’s government declared them a poisonous invasive species.
The plan to take them to India and Mexico has been in development for more than a year, said Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal protection and welfare at Antioquia’s environment ministry.
The hippos would be lured with food into large iron containers and transported by truck to the international airport in the city of Rionegro, 150 kilometers away. From there, they would be flown to India and Mexico, where there are sanctuaries and zoos that are able to take in and care for the animals.
“It is possible to do, we already have experience moving hippos in zoos across the country,” said David Echeverri López, a spokesman for Cornare, the local environmental authority that will be responsible for the move.
The plan is to send 60 hippos to Green’s Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India, which De los Ríos Morales said would cover the cost of containers and the airlift. Another 10 hippos would go to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico, such as Ostok, located in Sinaloa.
“We are working with Ernesto Zazueta, who is the president of sanctuaries and zoos in Mexico, who is the one who is in contact with different countries and manages their rescues,” the official said.
The plan is to focus on hippos that live in the rivers around Hacienda Napoles ranch, not those inside the ranch because they are in a controlled environment and do not threaten the local ecosystem.
The relocations would help control the hippo population, and although the animals’ original habitat is Africa, it is more humane than the alternative proposal to eradicate them as an invasive species, De los Ríos Morales said.
Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana have also expressed willingness to relocate Colombian hippos to their countries, according to the Antioquia governor’s office.