To manage the burgeoning population of hippos descended from animals imported by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, Colombia has initiated a sterilization program.
On Tuesday, environmental authorities sterilized two male and one female hippopotamus, marking the beginning of a broader government campaign to address the more than 100 hippos freely roaming some of the country’s rivers.
The sterilization plan aims to control the hippo population by conducting the procedure on 40 individuals annually, exploring the option of transferring some to other countries, and considering killing them as a last resort.
These hippos, once residents of Escobar’s private zoo at Hacienda Nápoles, have thrived in Colombia’s rivers, lacking natural predators and posing a threat to the local ecosystem.
The challenge lies in capturing and sterilizing these territorial and aggressive 3-ton creatures. David Echeverry López, chief of the environment office overseeing the initiative, emphasized the complexities involved in the process.
Spotting and capturing the hippos is difficult, and recent rain events in the area have further complicated efforts by providing an oversupply of food, making baiting for capture even more challenging.
The government estimates that there are currently 169 hippos in Colombia, particularly in the Magdalena River basin.
Without intervention, the population could surge to 1,000 by 2035, posing significant risks to the local environment.
The invasive species, having no natural predators, threatens to upset the ecological balance.
The sterilization process is not without challenges and risks. Each procedure comes at a substantial cost of approximately $9,800, and there are potential dangers for both the hippos and the animal health personnel involved.
Complications may arise, including allergic reactions to anesthesia and, in extreme cases, death.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 18 November 2023. Image Credit :Jens Goos/Shutterstock.