Colombia is proposing to send at least 70 hippopotamuses to India and Mexico as part of a plan to control the hippo population.
The hippos live near the former farm of the crime group leader Pablo Escobar, who died in 1993. He had illegally imported four hippos from Africa in the 1980s. The animals mated and their numbers increased.
The hippos are territorial in behavior and weigh up to three tons. They have spread far beyond the Hacienda Napoles property, which is about 200 kilometers from Bogota along the Magdalena River. Environmental officials estimate there are about 130 hippos in the area in Antioquia province. The experts said the hippo population there could reach 400 in eight years.
Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles and the hippos have become a tourist attraction in the years since Escobar was killed by police.
Scientists warn the hippos do not have a natural predator in Colombia. The animals also could be a problem for biodiversity as the waste they produce changes the composition of the rivers. The environmental changes could threaten native animals including manatees and capybaras. Last year, Colombia’s government declared the hippos a harmful invasive species.
The plan to take the animals to India and Mexico has been forming for more than a year, said Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal protection and welfare at Antioquia’s environment ministry.
Animal caretakers would use food to trick the hippos into getting into large, iron containers. Then, trucks would transport the animals to the international airport in the city of Rionegro, 150 kilometers away. From there, the hippos would be flown to India and Mexico, where there are animal shelters and zoos to house the animals.
“It is possible to do, we already have experience relocating hippos in zoos nationwide,” said David Echeverri López, a spokesman for Cornare, the local environmental agency that would oversee the operation.
The plan is to send 60 hippos to the Greens Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India. De los Ríos Morales said the center would pay for the cost of the containers and airlift. Another 10 hippos would go to zoos and protected areas in Mexico such as the Ostok Sanctuary, in Sinaloa state.
The plan aims to catch the hippos living in the rivers surrounding the Hacienda Napoles property. The ones on the property are not a concern. Officials said those hippos are in a controlled environment and do not threaten the local environment.
Ecuador, the Philippines and Botswana have also expressed their willingness to take the Colombian hippos, the Antioquia Governor’s Office says.
I’m Caty Weaver.