There are fears that the 166 hippos that were owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s may become feral, so Colombia is planning to kill some of them in an attempt to manage their numbers.
Environment Minister Suzanna Mohammed said twenty would be sterilized, some would be taken abroad and “a few” would be executed.
Experts have been trying to control the hippo population for years.
Escobar imported hippos for his private zoo Hacienda Nápoles. They were left to roam when he was shot and killed by police in 1993.
Authorities have tried various tactics to reduce population growth in the Magdalena, Colombia’s largest river, including sterilization and moving some species to neighboring zoos.
Despite the best efforts, the herd continued to grow unchecked because Antioquia’s fertile, swampy soil and lack of predators provided the perfect environment for the native African mammal to thrive.
The hippos’ demise was sealed last year when they were designated as an invasive species, opening the door for slaughter.
“We are working on the protocol to export the animals,” Muhammad said, according to local media.
“We are not going to export a single animal without permission from the other country’s environmental authority.”
He said that as a last resort, the ministry is developing a euthanasia policy.
Experts in Colombia have long warned that uncontrolled hippo breeding threatens both native animals and people.
If nothing is done, the population is projected to reach 1,000 by 2035. However, animal groups claim that neutering causes animals pain and puts veterinarians at serious risk.
Male hippos can weigh up to three tons as adults, making them one of the largest land mammals. They also rank among the deadliest, claiming the lives of around 500 people a year.
There were attacks on fishing communities along the Magdalena River and some hippos invaded a school yard, but no one was killed.
Head of the Medellín cartel, Escobar earned the nickname “King of Cocaine” and amassed an estimated $30bn (£25bn) fortune by moving drugs to Miami and the southern United States.
During his more than ten-year reign of terror, he was involved in kidnappings, hundreds of murders, bombings, bribery, turf wars with rival drug lords and a brief stint as an elected politician.
One of the world’s most wanted men, he surrendered to Colombian police in 1991 with the understanding that he would be housed in the prison he had built, La Catedral, for five years.
A year later, despite the government’s efforts to transfer Escobar to a more secure prison, he went on the run.
In his hometown of Rionegro, he was shot and killed on a rooftop on December 2, 1993 while trying to elude authorities, bringing a US$2 million bounty on his head.
In addition to leaving behind a 5,500-acre private citadel in Antioquia called Hacienda Nápoles, he also left behind a history of violence and a menagerie that included four hippos, giraffes, camels and zebras.
After Escobar’s death, the government turned the property over to poor residents and the hippos were allowed to roam free because they were considered too difficult to capture.
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