The late drug lord famously owned four hippos that procreated with abandon after he was killed in 1993. For the past 30 years, officials have pondered what to do about the animals ― there are now about 170 of them ― and their destruction of the local ecosystem. Now, they’ve decided on sterilization.
“We are in a race against time in terms of permanent environmental and ecosystem impacts,” Susana Muhamad, the environmental minister of Colombia, told The New York Times in a statement Saturday.
Officials say the expansive hippo population has roamed the countryside unregulated for years, and their numbers could skyrocket to 1,000 by 2035. While the World Wildlife Fund designates them as vulnerable, the herbivores have no natural predators in the area.
Colombian officials have thus decided on a three-pronged plan to sterilize, euthanize or relocate the hippos. They announced Friday that four have already been sterilized. Officials reportedly now plan to tranquilize and surgically sterilize 40 hippos per year.
Escobar, who founded the Medellín Cartel and dominated the 1980s cocaine trade, is thought to have imported the first four hippos from a breeding center in Dallas. Their descendants became a highlight, alongside other wildlife, of his Hacienda Nápoles ranch.
While some researchers believed the hippos could restore the local ecosystem, the animals were eventually deemed an invasive species in the region. One of them was killed after being struck by an SUV on a highway near the ranch earlier this year.
Officials estimate that the population of hippos descended from drug lord Pablo Escobar's original group could grow to 1,000 by 2035.
The population had grown to about 80 when, in 2021, the Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully fought to save the hippos from being euthanized — and have them recognized as the first nonhuman creatures to be legally considered people.
The whole issue has “led to a lot of strong emotions ... on both sides,” Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist at the University of California, San Diego, told the Times. “I think the plan they’ve come out with is very reasonable, and you’ll be able to see if it works if you don’t see baby hippos around.”