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Growing problem? Colombia set to translocate late drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos to India, Mexico

Once required permits are granted, the Colombian government will translocate 70 of the animals — 60 to a rehabilitation centre in Gujarat, and 10 to a sanctuary in Mexico.

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New Delhi: Former drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to create trouble for the Colombian government even three decades after his death, this time in the form of hippos he brought in for his private zoo in the late 1970s. The mammals have since steadily grown in number, so much so, that the government plans to transport some to India and Mexico to put a check on their population.

According to reports, Colombian government has even declared them an invasive species as they threaten the country’s natural ecosystems, biodiversity and human safety. An invasive species is one that is introduced to an environment and then goes on to overpopulate it, harming its new environment in the process.

Escobar acquired four hippos, reportedly from Africa or the US, to join the elephants, giraffes and antelopes on his Hacienda Nápoles estate in western Colombia, according to The Washington Post.

When he surrendered to authorities in 1991, the government seized his estate, but allowed the animals to roam free, according to the report.

After his death in 1993, authorities relocated most of the other animals, but the hippos which were too difficult to capture and transport remained.

The initial one male, three female population of hippos has now grown to stand between 130 and 160, forcing the government to intervene. According to a local governor, they plan to fly dozens of the mammals — called ‘Cocaine hippos’ because the first four belonged to Escobar — to India and Mexico in an attempt to curb their population.

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Cause of concern

According to reports, the herbivores that have now settled into the Magdalena River, have become a cause of concern among scientists as they devour plant life, crowd out native animals, pollute soil and water, and threaten safety of human life.

Scientists have predicted that the hippos could displace endangered species that are native to the Magdalena River, such as the Antillean manatee, by “outcompeting them” for food and space.

They have also cautioned that traffic accidents and attacks on people by hippos will become increasingly common and the trend of wildlife traffickers illegally selling baby hippos could intensify.

Meanwhile, castration efforts have proved to be of limited success. The process is complex and the mammals are reproducing at a faster pace than their individual sterilisation, according to The Washington Post report.

Last year, Cornare, an environmental agency, used a chemical contraceptive applied by a dart rifle on male and female hippos and administered it to 38 of them, but they cannot now identify which of the animals have received the shots. Paint, collars, and even satellite markers have stood no chance with the hippos which seem to be taking them all off, said The Washington Post report.

The big relocation

A total of 70 hippos, a mix of males and females, are expected to be moved, with 60 coming to India’s Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Gujarat, and 10 to the Ostok Animal Protection & Sanctuary in Mexico.

The process is known as ‘translocating’ as the animals will be moved from a country that was not their native habitat to another that is also not their natural habitat.

In an interview with Colombian outlet Blu Radio, local governor Aníbal Gaviria explained that the goal was to take them to countries which have the capacity to receive them, home them properly, and control their reproduction.

Sending the hippos back to their native land of Africa was “not allowed,” Gaviria said. But this project has run up a hefty bill. Authorities intend on chartering cargo planes, capable of carrying 20 to 30 hippos, from the Belarusian company Rada Airlines. A flight to Mexico could cost $4,00,000, and to India, will be $9,00,000, The Washington Post reported.

Each hippo is to be contained in a special wooden crate that could cost up to $10,000. Maintaining an individual costs roughly $2,500 per month, according to the report.

The government is expecting the translocation to be completed by the first half of this year if the required permits are expedited this year, especially from the Colombian Agricultural Institute.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

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