Hippos brought to Colombia during the reign of terror by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar need to be culled, scientists say in a new study.
There is now serious concern over their environmental impact and human safety, according to a new study by researchers at Mexican and Colombian universities, CNN reported. Hippos, which are native to sub-Saharan Africa, have adapted to Colombia’s jungle-like climate.
In the 1980s, four hippopotamuses, one male and three females, were brought to the country to be featured in Escobar’s private zoo known as Hacienda Napoles in Medellín, Gizmodo reported. However, since Escobar’s 1993 death, the local mammals, known commonly as the “cocaine hippos” because of the money used to bring them over, have been breeding at an uncontrollable rate in the country, CNN reported. Since Hacienda Napoles closed following Escobar’s death in a police shootout, the hippos have roamed free in the area, reproducing quickly and creating a new habitat for themselves in the country’s largest river, the Magdelena, National Geographic reported.
The original four hippos reproduced over the years, leading to roughly 80 hippos roaming around the country and have become a "national mascot" of sorts, according to Gizmodo. And their population continues to grow, CNN reported.
Between 2011 and 2019, scientists began sterilizing some of the hippos to curb the breeding, but it apparently did not have a significant effect, CNN reported.
The study says that the hippos pose a threat to humans, as there have been reported incidences of hippos chasing people, as well as a hippo attack in May that left a 45-year-old man seriously injured, CNN said.
While some scientists are calling for the hippos to be culled, others say not so fast. Some ecologists have pushed for the idea of "rewilding," sayig the hippos could fill in for species pushed to extinction by humans thousands of years ago, National Geographic reported.