‘A big fright’: Hippos linked to Pablo Escobar spark concern

Residents in Colombia have expressed concern about hippos – linked to the late drug lord Pablo Escobar – wandering into their communities.

There are fears that people could be attacked by the potentially aggressive three-tonne animals which walk down streets and approach homes in the rural town of Doradal.

At the height of his power in the 1980s, Escobar brought four hippos into the country to keep inside his private zoo at his Hacienda Napoles estate northwest of Bogota.

After his death in 1993, many of the animals housed at the 5,500-acre property were taken to new homes or died – but the hippos were too large and expensive to transport, so they were abandoned.

A hippo feeds at a farm on the outskirts of Doradal, Antioquia department, Colombia, near the Hacienda Napoles theme park, once the private zoo of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar at his Napoles ranch, on June 21, 2016. More than twenty years after drug lord Pablo Escobar died in a gunfight with police, a strange legacy survives him: his pet hippos. Escobar bought four hippos from a zoo in California and flew them to his ranch in the early 1980s.
The wandering animals have caused fear in the town of Doradal

Now, an estimated 80 descended from the four live in and around the Rio Magdalena, Colombia’s main river, and their habitual wandering has sparked concern among locals including primary school teacher Wilber Quinones and her colleagues.

She said: “We have to lock ourselves inside with the children to try and avoid an accident.”

Another local, Giver Cardona, was riding his motorbike one morning earlier this year when he crashed into a hippo.

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“Now when I pass by here in the mornings I go slowly and check around every corner,” Cardona said. “They keep us worried.”

There have so far been no reports of the hippos attacking humans, but their rapid population growth has residents fearing that could change.

DORADAL, COLOMBIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Hippopotamus swim in one of the lakes near by Hacienda Napoles on September 24, 2018 in Doradal, Colombia. Cartel leader Pablo Escobar owned Hacienda Naples where he set up a theme park and a private zoo in the early 1980s. After his death in 1993, the Colombian government confiscated the exotic animals but left four hippopotamus that have multiplied.
The government is working on a plan to sterilise the hippos

Maria Jaramilla, 41, said she woke up in the middle of the night by one who was inspecting her house.

“It was a big fright for all of us,” she said.

There have been other sightings of the animals wandering on to football fields and driveways.

Although they primarily only eat plants, hippos are reportedly one of the most aggressive animals on earth.

They can snap a canoe in half with their jaws, and they kill about 500 people in Africa each year.

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Scientists say they are also threatening the area’s native flora and fauna.

A University of California study found the hippos are changing the make-up of Colombia’s rivers and lakes as they can cause algae outbreaks in the water they defecate in.

Later this year, environmental agency Cornare will attempt multiple surgical sterilisations, in an attempt to curb their population growth.

Cornare last year conducted an in-the-wild surgical sterilisation of a female, the first-ever in Colombia.

Environmental specialist Gina Serna said finding a viable solution was urgent, estimating their numbers would quadruple in the next decade.