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Colombia plans to fly Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’ to India, Mexico

Hippos at Bengaluru Zoo (Photo: IANS)

Colombia is planning to fly dozens of its “cocaine hippos” — the descendents of late drug trafficker Pablo Escobars private menagerie — to new homes in India and Mexico in a bid to control their booming population, according to the local governor.

There are now between 130 and 160 of the hippos, according to the Colombian government, and they have spread out far beyond Escobar’s former ranch of Hacienda Napoles, where they began as a population of just one male and three females, CNN reported.

The original hippos were part of a collection of exotic animals Escobar had amassed in the 1980s at his ranch about 250 km from Medellin.

After his death in 1993, authorities relocated most of the other animals, but not the hippos, because they were too difficult to transport, CNN reported.

But they have since begun to reproduce rapidly, extending their reach along the Magdalena River basin and they now pose an environmental challenge and are concerning nearby residents, authorities say.

A study in the journal Nature warned their numbers could balloon to 1,500 within two decades.

Previously, authorities have tried to control their population using castrations and “shorts of contraceptive darts”. But the contraceptive drives have had limited success, CNN reported.

Now there’s a plan to transfer 70 of the hippos to natural sanctuaries in India and Mexico, the governor of Antioquia province, where Hacienda Napoles is located, said in a tweet.

A total of 70 hippos, a mix of males and females, are expected to be moved — with 60 going to India and 10 to Mexico.

The technical term for this operation is “translocating”, Governor Anibal Gaviria explained in an interview with the Colombian outlet Blu Radio, as it would involve moving the hippos from one country that was not their native habitat to another that was also not their natural habitat, CNN reported.

The goal was “to take them to countries where these institutions have the capacity to receive them, and to (home) them properly and to control their reproduction,” Gaviria said, CNN reported.

Sending the hippos back to their native land of Africa was “not allowed,” Gaviria said.