Pablo Escobar’s “coca hippos” are a problem for Colombia


It’s a problem unlike any other, an invasion of hippos in Colombia, initially brought to the country by the infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar. It is not only an issue that baffles scientists and conservationists but is also a significant threat to the local wildlife and inhabitants.

In the 1980s, Escobar’s private zoo boasted a group of 3 females and one male hippo, brought from an American zoo to the lush Colombian countryside. Little did he know that this small group would eventually multiply to a staggering count close to 130 individuals. These hippos, descendants of the original hippos who Escobar once owned, are now roaming Colombia’s riverways, upsetting the ecological balance, and terrifying local farmers with their aggressive nature.

The irony isn’t lost that these gigantic mammals are not even endemic to Colombia and have no natural predators in the region, enabling them to proliferate unhindered. Nanoscopic amoebas and microscopic viruses were brought under control, but the world is yet to discover an effective solution for a burgeoning population of hippos.

There have been various proposed solutions to this unique problem. One plan was to relocate the animals to countries like the Philippines or India, where hippos are more familiar to the local ecology. But as ambitious as this project sounds, it has not materialized as of yet.

Another resolution that was attempted – a sterilization scheme – has sadly failed. Only six hippos were sterilized in 2023, far fewer than necessary to stem the population explosion. To make matters worse, it appears that these intelligent creatures are evolving to understand human interventions, learning to avoid traps and not follow bait.


While it might not seem like a significant issue at first, the cost implications of managing this problem are astronomical. Neutering each individual hippo, for instance, has a hefty price tag of around $10,000. Hence, the resources required are simply not feasible, especially in light of the numerous other environmental crises the world is facing.

With every other measure failing or falling short, the situation has left us with only one viable but heartbreaking solution – mercy killing. It’s a severe step, one that no animal lover would ever want to consider, but given the threat to human life and the ecological damage, it might be the only option left.

In the midst of this difficult situation, there is another unfortunate news. Last November, Mexico, which had shown interest in hosting some of the hippos, withdrew its intention. This change in the country’s stance further aggravated the dilemma, as it was expected that the transfer to Mexico would partially alleviate the hippo overpopulation.

In conclusion, the story of Pablo Escobar’s hippos is a unique, complex conundrum involving the interplay of human action, nature, and the unintended consequences on an ecosystem. It is a potent reminder that our actions can have large-scale, lasting impacts on the planet’s biodiversity and calls for a thoughtful balance between human intervention and ecological preservation.

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