Invasive Cocaine Hippopotami Run Rampant in Colombia—Ruled Legally People in U.S. Court


Max Schwartzman, Editor-in-Chief

The lasting effects of Pablo Escobar on the nation of Colombia are numerous, yet none more apparent than that of his former zoo creatures running wild around the mountains of Northern Colombia. While Escobar’s Medellin Cartel has since died out, his hippopotami have done just the opposite. 

Numbering between 80 and 120 “it is the biggest hippo herd outside Africa, which is their native region,” conservationist and veterinarian Carlos Valderrama told BBC News

The hippopotami are officially recognized as an invasive species in Colombia, making them technically the largest invasive species by animal size. The animals are widely referred to as the “Cocaine Hippos” due to their existence entirely due to Pablo Escobar “The Tsar of Cocaine”. 

“Within a couple of decades, there could be thousands of them,” Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist with University of California San Diego who studies the Colombian hippopotami, explained to National Geographic

Pablo Escobar initially purchased more than twenty square kilometers of land in the Antioquia Department of Colombia, building a luxury estate he named Hacienda Napoles. In the estate was Escobar’s private zoo, for which he smuggled the hippopotamuses into Colombia. Eventually, the hippopotamuses would escape into the wild, surviving well due to the environment of the Antioquia Department. 

“The fact that there are wild hippopotamuses in South America [is] a wonderful story of survival, of agency, of pioneering,” wrote Arian Wallach, an ecologist with the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, to National Geographic magazine.

While the Colombian people adore and take pride in their hippopotami, the government of Colombia is actively in favor of eradicating the population through sterilization. 

“The river hippo is responsible for the most deaths in Africa,” Jennifer Chapman, a senior mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo, revealed to the Los Angeles Times, “and they are fast. People don’t understand that.”

In a lawsuit by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California based animal advocacy organization, filed against the nation of Colombia in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the hippopotami were declared “interested persons,” legally granting them the rights of people according to The Hill. The lawsuit was filed in regards to the forced sterilization, or the permanent removal of a creature’s reproductive abilities, of the hippopotami in the Antioquia Department. 

“This really is part of a bigger movement of advocating that animals’ interest be represented in court,” Christopher Berry, head attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, noted about the ruling.

The decision to recognize the hippopotamus plaintiffs as people has been met with much rejoicing by animal activists throughout the United States, many of whom hope this case will set a precedent for future legal cases that aim to help animals.

However, unfortunately for the animal activists “The ruling has no impact in Colombia because they only have an impact within their own territories,” explained Camilo Burbano Cifuentes, a criminal law professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, to NBC News. “It will be the Colombian authorities who decide what to do with the hippos and not the American ones.” 

The government of Colombia and the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment on the hippopotami by The Bobcat Prowl.

A few important facts about hippopotami according to Exclusive African Safaris are: in the wild, they normally congregate in groups of 8-30, called herds; that the hippopotami spend most of their time eating, being herbivores with a handful of exceptions; and that hippopotami sounds are known as honks.

While the future of the Colombian “Cocaine Hippos” is uncertain, their population continues to grow greatly as the population takes shape in the Antioquia Department. As of the present, the hippopotami of Colombia continue to grow in population, honking and snorting their way through the waterways of Colombia.