PUERTO TRIUNFO, Colombia, June 26 (UPI) –
Infamous drug lord Pablor Escobar built a zoo for his son in the 1980s. Roaming the acreage of his ranch, Hacienda Napoles, in Colombia’s Puerto Triunfo — 200 miles northwest of the capital, Bogotá — were several elephants, giraffes, and four hippos.
When the drug lord passed in 1993, the elephants and giraffes found their way into several Colombian zoos. But more than two decades after Escobar was shot dead by Colombian National Police, and the hippos still roam free. Only now, there are more than four.
Escobar’s ranch, after years of neglect, was repurposed as a park, with local environmental authorities taking responsibility for the upkeep. The hippos have apparently thriven — maybe a little too much. Officials estimate that here are some 50 or 60 hippos in the park.
But locals say they’ve expanded beyond the zoo walls.
Valderrama and others say the expanding hippo population — like so many other invasive species do — threatens the area’s biodiversity.
As the hippos — their pampered lives buoyed by the slow moving Magdalena River and an ideal climate devoid of drought — continue to breed, the problem gets worse and worse. And authorities aren’t sure what to do.
Some suggest rounding up all the loose hippos and building a park with suitable fences. That would cost some $500,000, a half-million that environmentalists say should be spent to protect native species. Others say the males should be euthanized.
The hippos aren’t just a threat to biodiversity, but a threat to Colombian people. Hippos are dangerous animals, killing between 100 and 200 people every year. And while some zoos in the area have adopted the hippo pups, the adults remain free — some of them lurking in public.
The conundrum at least has one person amused. For Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos, the hippos are a ripe metaphor.