Hippos descended from a herd illegally imported by Pablo Escobar are to be declared an invasive species in Colombia.
Within weeks, the Colombian government is planning to sign a declaration that will force officials to come up with a plan for how to control the hippopotamus population.
The animals were brought into the country by the infamous drug lord in the 1980s and kept on his sprawling estate, the Hacienda Napoles.
Since Escobar’s death in 1993, the hippos reproduced in local rivers and began showing up in the nearby town, Puerto Triunfo, a decade ago.
There are now around 130 of them and projections show there could be 400 in the next eight years.
Colombia’s environment minister Carlos Eduardo Correa said many strategies are being discussed, including castration, sterilisation, or even a cull, but no decisions have been made yet.
“What is important is the scientific and technical rigour with which the decisions are made,” he said.
He added that communities will be consulted about any plans.
‘Hippopotamuses aren’t African now; they are Colombians’
Not all residents have reacted positively to the plans, with many opposed to any measures to control the population and most people interviewed saying they can get along with the animals.
One local, Alvaro Molina, said he supports the hippos – despite being attacked by a female while out fishing.
The 57-year-old said he is worried about them coming to any harm under the government plan.
His opinion was echoed by a conservationist, Isabel Romero Jerez, who said: “The hippopotamuses aren’t African now; they are Colombians.”
She said of the government: “They make laws from a distance. We live with the hippopotamuses here, and we have never thought of killing them.
“The human-animal is the one that invades their territory, that is why they feel threatened and attack.”
Potential problem for biodiversity
However, scientists warn that the hippos do not have a natural predator in the country and are a potential problem for biodiversity due to their faeces changing the composition of rivers.
They can also cause damage to crops because they are mainly herbivores and seek food in large quantities at night.
Biologist Daniel Cadena said hippos are aggressive animals and are not as gentle as people imagine.
“There are estimates in Africa that hippos kill more people each year than lions, hyenas, and crocodiles combined,” he said.
When the document declaring them an invasive species in Colombia is signed, the hippos will join species such as the giant African snail, coqui frog, black tilapia, and lionfish.