The Hippopotami of Colombia

Alan Cai

March 3, 2023

The rainforests of South America are not known to house many large animals. The growing population of Hippopotami living along the banks of the Magdalena River in Colombia may come as a surprise.

The stupendous invasive species originated from the notorious Colombian drug dealer, Pablo Escobar. The criminal kingpin smuggled four of the mammals, nicknamed “cocaine hippos,” from Africa onto his estate in Colombia; one male and three female. When the drug lord perished under police gunfire following his departure from prison, the hippos were released into the wild.

The astounding giants of nature subsequently found a suitable habitat filled with abundant food supplies and a virtually limitless supply of water; perfect conditions for the semi-aquatic herbivores. Since their introduction in the 1980s and later relocation, the original group of four hippopotami has expanded into a sprawling population of over one hundred thirty individuals.

With no local predators(jaguars are less than a tenth of the size of an adult hippo) and few natural competitors in Colombia, the hippopotami were able to multiply rapidly without difficulty. The number of individuals is expected to quadruple within the next decade. Biologists do warn that the hippopotami are a harmful invasive species in the sense that they overpower local fauna in competition for food and eradicate native flora. Ecologists additionally warn that hippo feces pollute the waters of the Magdalena River and may further damage local wildlife and human communities living downstream.

Numerous efforts have been made to halt or reverse the growth of the hippo community in Colombia, with little to no avail. Among the initiatives include a controlled hunt, a sterilization campaign, and a contraceptive dart-shooting mission. Projects aimed at eliminating the gargantuan threat to Colombian rainforests have faced opposition from some animal rights activists. When the issue was taken up by the United States judiciary, a judge ruled that hippos were considered “interested persons,” a term that can be described as people who could be reasonably affected by actions, and therefore subject to certain protections. The ruling was hailed as a landmark decision in the conservation of wildlife by a number of animal activists worldwide. Despite the acclaim, legal experts largely are in consensus that the ruling will have little to no effect in Colombia as the nation and its hippos are outside of United States legal jurisdiction.

It is important to recognize that the issue of the ballooning hippopotamus population will not be solved by the measures aforementioned as ecologists have agreed that the rate of population increase(one calf per mother per two years) outpaces the sterilization or hunting endeavors undertaken. The Colombian government recently announced plans to relocate seventy hippos to Mexico and India, with more countries pending agreements. Experts in the field agree that while the plan is expensive, involving large cargo planes and cages, it would prove quite beneficial to both the hippopotami and the local wildlife populations.