Colombia proposes sending invasive hippos to India, Mexico

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BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia is proposing the relocation of at least 70 hippopotamuses living near the former ranch of Pablo Escobar – descendants of four who were illegally imported from Africa by the late drug lord in the 1980s – to India and Mexico as part of a plan to control their population.

The hippos, which are territorial and weigh up to 3 tons, have spread far beyond the ranch of Hacienda Napoles, located 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Bogota along the Magdalena River. Environmental authorities estimate that there are about 130 hippos in the area in the Antioquia Department and that their population could reach 400 in eight years.

Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles – and the hippos – have become something of a local tourist attraction in the years since the kingpin was killed by police in 1993. When his ranch was abandoned, the hippos live and reproduce in local rivers and favorable climatic conditions.

Scientists warn that the hippos in Colombia do not have a natural predator and that they are a problem for biodiversity because their deaths change the composition of the rivers and could affect in the habitat of manatees and capybaras. Last year, the Colombian government declared them a poisonous invasive species.

The plan to bring them to India and Mexico has been in the making for more than a year, said Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal protection and welfare at Antioquia’s environment ministry.

The hippos would be drawn with food into large, iron containers and moved by truck to the international airport in the city of Rionegro, 150 kilometers away. From there, they would be flown to India and Mexico, where sanctuaries and zoos are able to take the animals in and care for them.

“It is possible to do, we already have experience of moving hippos in zoos around the country,” said David Echeverri López, spokesman for Cornare, the local environmental authority that would be in charge of the transfer.

The plan is to send 60 hippos to the Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India, which De los Ríos Morales said would cover the cost of the containers and the airplane. Another 10 hippos would go to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico such as the Ostok, located in Sinaloa.

“We work with Ernesto Zazueta, who is the president of sanctuaries and zoos in Mexico, who communicates with different countries and manages their rescues,” said the official.

The plan is to focus on the hippos that live in the rivers around the Hacienda Napoles ranch, not the ones inside the ranch because they are in a controlled environment and are not they threaten the local ecosystem.

The moves would help control the hippo population, and although the animals’ native habitat is in Africa, it is more humane than the alternative proposal to eradicate them as an invasive species, said De los Ríos Morales.

Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana have also expressed their willingness to transfer Colombian hippos to their countries, according to the Antioquia Governor’s Office.

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