Pablo Escobar’s Escaped ‘Cocaine Hippos’ Rapidly Reproducing, Polluting Waterways with Poop

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

For more than a decade, Pablo Escobar turned Columbia’s streets into a war zone, but now, 28 years after his death, he’s still causing problems. This time, however, it’s not blood gumming up the gutters. Now it’s his “cocaine hippos” that won’t stop reproducing and stopping up the waterways with their poop.

Escobar was, and may still be, the most notorious drug lord of all time. And during his decades of selling and smuggling cocaine, he amassed a fortune that would top most Fortune 500 companies. And, as it turns out when you have an unlimited amount of money, you’ll buy just about anything.

Escobar smuggled four hippos from a United States zoo in the 1980s, according to Vice. As well as several other animals. After police killed Escobar, officials distributed his collection of exotic creatures to zoos across the country. But the hippos proved a logistical problem, the BBC said. They were just too large to move.

So officials left them there thinking that the animals would die off on their own, Colombian biologist Nataly Castelblanco told the BBC earlier this year.

But they’ve thrived.

Since 1993, their population has reached 80. Each of the massive mammals weighing 4,000 pounds and having no natural predators. Researchers told Vice that the population could grow to more than 1,400 hippos by 2039.

Compounding matters is these hippos wreak havoc on Colombia’s Puerto Triunfo ecosystem. Their toxic poop is causing algae blooms and killing off native fish species.

And now, scientists think the only way to solve the problem is to kill the hippos.

“For me, what is necessary here is to protect and preserve the integrity of our ecosystem over an exotic species,” biologist Castelblanco-Martínez told VICE News this week, “…even if this exotic species is super charismatic and super cute.”

But There’s An Issue With Killing the Hippos

The animals have become a tourist attraction. An industry has blossomed around the admittedly cute but problematic animals. And where there are tourists, there are tourist dollars to be spent. Just the sheer novelty of it draws in gawkers.

“It is the biggest hippo herd outside Africa, which is their native region,” veterinarian and conservationist Carlos Valderrama told the BBC.

Castelblanco-Martínez thinks that if they could cull 30 of the creatures a year, it would be enough to eradicate them.

“Hippos are an invasive species in Colombia and if we do not kill a part of their population now, the situation could be out of control in just 10 or 20 years,” she said.

As of now, however, there are no plans to cull the creatures.