Colombia The fight to get rid of the 150 hippos of Colombia, the last inheritance of the narco Pablo Escobar

"If everything goes well, they could leave Colombia at the end of the year

Colombia The fight to get rid of the 150 hippos of Colombia, the last inheritance of the narco Pablo Escobar

"If everything goes well, they could leave Colombia at the end of the year." David Echeverri, looks optimistically to the future. The director of Conare (Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Negro and Nare river basins) is confident that this time they will be able to get rid of some of the 150 hippos that were born in and around the Hacienda Nápoles. If this is not achieved and they continue to reproduce at the current rate, experts estimate that they would exceed 1,500 specimens in 2040.

"Mexico could take up to ten and in India they said they had a capacity for sixty. The plane alone would cost them around a million dollars," adds Echeverri, in an interview with El MUNDO. Juvenile individuals can weigh a little over a ton, adults - almost triple. "It would be a dream if they could be sent. We have been working on an exit for years. It would not be the solution to the problem, but it helps."

In the last decade, they managed to send seven to different Colombian zoos and have received proposals from several Latin American countries, such as Uruguay and Ecuador, which never materialized. The high costs of transport is usually the cause of not materializing the delivery.

"The Ostok Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Center", in the state of Sinaloa, would be the destination of a dozen of them. In Mexico they expect them to land at the Culiacán airport after Easter, although it seems premature given the required certifications and quarantines.

Ernesto Zazueta, president of Azcarm (Association of Zoos, Hatcheries and Aquariums of Mexico) and promoter of the initiative, plans to send the others to the "Greens Center for Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation" in the Indian state of Gujarat.

They would only send juveniles in trucks to the José María Córdova airport that serves Medellín, 150 kilometers away. And then each plane could carry a maximum of thirty copies.

"We bring our experience in the capture and sedation of animals, and we obtain all the permits required by the Ministry of the Environment. The Antioquia government is putting its shoulder in, the recipients would not have to pay for our work. With these animals everything It's complicated, but we trust that this time it will turn out well", Echeverri notes.

Hippos are, in a way, the heirs of Pablo Escobar, since at the height of his bloodthirsty power he ordered three males and one female to be brought from a zoo in the United States. He had the whim of a reserve with wild animals on his huge farm in Puerto Triunfo, a stone's throw from the Magdalena River, and spared no expense. Some arrived by sea and then by land, and others by plane.

But then no one foresaw that the family would grow non-stop in a territory with an ecosystem similar to that of the African countries from which they originate. And that nothing and nobody would disturb them, especially after the death of the boss at the hands of the police in 2003.

When this newspaper toured Naples on the tenth anniversary of the death of the boss of the Medellín cartel, only a couple of people in charge of caring for the property lived on the farm. And of all the wild animals, there were hardly any hippos left, which were then nine, concentrated in two of the twelve artificial lakes that Escobar had made. Over time they began to move through neighboring lakes, rivers and swamps, and since they did not have dry seasons, hunters or predators that were merely the herd, they multiplied at a speed like in no other part of the planet.

Although the hippos have established their lair in the Hacienda Nápoles Theme Park, they roam the surroundings like Pedro does at home. They have scared pedestrians in Doradal and Puerto Triunfo, neighboring towns, and unsuspecting fishermen in the region. Only once was a specimen killed, but the soldiers who fired were reprimanded and a 2012 law prohibits shooting them.

That is why "euthanasia" is impossible, a solution proposed by scholars in the field. The animalists, for their part, suggest that they "return them to Africa", as if they did not have enough with the 150,000 that exist on that continent and it was free to take them by plane. In addition to the fact that they would be an invasive species due to the parasitic load that they have acquired in Colombia, a different tropical region, and would pose a danger to the local fauna.

"They can only go to zoos," explains Echeverri, one of the leading experts on hippos. Although the specimens are an attraction for the Parque Nápoles, they are state property.

To date, the only way to keep track of them a bit has been by putting kilos of vegetables in the same place in the Park every afternoon. But it is impossible to monitor all of them.

There are also voices that suggest sterilizing them, a daunting task given its high cost and the time it would require to carry it out. They are animals with a calm appearance but aggressive and very fast, it is difficult to catch them to lock them in the corral that they set up to carry out this task.

If in the end the project of India and Mexico fails, in Antioquia they fear that the governments in power will choose to continue the policy of arms crossed while the herd increases.

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