HomeOutdoorsNewsColombia Continues To Wrestle With Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

Colombia Continues To Wrestle With Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

by Brett Stayton
Cocaine Hippos
Photo by Nicolás Muñoz/Getty Images

You’ve likely heard of Cocaine Bear by now. Maybe if you’re really in the know, you know a little something about Meth Gator. But have you heard of the Cartelopotamuses in Colombia? It’s a wild, wild story. In the late 1970s, cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar bought four hippopotamuses, three female, and one male, and moved them to his private ranch in the jungles of western Colombia. Following Escobar’s death in 1993, the Colombian government seized his estate and let the hippos run loose into the Colombian jungle.

At the height of his operation, Escobar was worth an estimated $30 billion. That makes him the richest criminal in world history. Adjust his fortune of contraband for inflation and he’d be worth $70 billion today. With that much money, why not build your own zoo huh?

Colombian Hippo Population Growing Quickly

According to Field and Stream, there are now more than 130 free-range real-life “cocaine hippos” posted up along the Magdalena River in Colombia. Because hippos don’t really have any predators, their numbers are growing unchecked. Population estimates indicate that unless something changes the trajectory, there will be more than 600 hippos thriving in the Colombian jungle.

The primary complaints against the hippos are that they’re decimating native vegetation, eroding the soil, polluting the water, and being aggressive toward people. They are after all one of the deadliest animals on the planet. A renewed focus is being undertaken on finding a solution to the growing hippo problems. The best look at the Colombian hippo situation is this roughly 9-minute long documentary from Terra Mater on Youtube.

Steps Being Taken To Settle Down Colombian Hippo Herd

Escobar’s hippo herd first became common knowledge and a headline-making news story back in 2021. That’s when news of the rapidly spreading population first went viral online. A U.S. court also bizarrely granted the hippos personhood status in a lawsuit that same year. Plans to sterilize the hippos also started being discussed back then as well.

Those sterilization efforts have yielded very little success in the last few years. Similar to trying to use birth control to manage urban deer populations in America, the efforts have cost a whole hell of a lot of money for only limited and temporary effectiveness. Last year, local authorities reportedly darted 38 hippos with contraceptives, but they may have darted the same hippo several times because they were unable to differentiate between the individuals. The entire population started with just 4 hippos. So even just the leftover animals that we’re darted are capable of causing the population to continue ballooning.

Colombian authorities are now hoping a new management approach is more effective than contraceptives. The Columbian government plans on capturing at least 70 hippos and transferring them to sanctuaries and zoos in India and Mexico. That’s if those zoos are willing to pay the price to accommodate the hippos. Each hippo will need to be contained in a custom enclosure that costs up to $10,000. Chartering a plane capable of carrying 20 to 30 hippos will then cost around $400,000 for a flight to Mexico and $900,000 to India.

Although the hippos are more special than a typical hippo because of their historic and cultural identities, it seems unlikely zoos will have that kind of budget available to house the hippos. That makes this question worth asking… Is it time to open up a hunting season for Colombian hippos

Is It Time To Start Hunting Columbian Hippos Again?

The Columbian government previously hosted a tightly regulated hippo hunt back in 2009. A hunter successfully tracked one of Escobar’s hippos while being guided by members of the military. However, the situation received public outcry and pushback due to tan ensuing trophy photo that made politicians averse to the population management strategy. In the meantime, the hippo population exploded. It seems like with recent cultural shifts and expanded knowledge about the ecological damage the hippos are causing, the idea of hunting them might have more favorable support now than it did back then.

Even VICE News made the surprising admission that it’s probably time to start lethally removing hippos from the landscape. Making cocaine hippo hunting a legitimate trophy hunting experience and wildlife management tool would likely take involvement from an organization like Safari Club International in addition to the Columbian government and other local wildlife management professionals. Why spend millions of dollars to relocate them? Why not auction off the hunts to raise money for further hippo conservation efforts like the systems in place for other species? It could further add to the hippo-based safari and tourism activity already going on in the area.

Vice / YouTube