Government Rushes to Sterilize Invasive ‘Cocaine Hippos’: ‘We Are in a Race Against Time’

If you thought one “Cocaine Bear” was a problem, imagine how much havoc a couple hundred “cocaine hippos” might cause. Granted, the titular bear in the film — sometimes affectionately referred to as Pablo Eskobear — didn’t really wreak the havoc the film showed him responsible for, even after ingesting a stomach-full of cocaine, and the hippos in question haven’t done even a single line. (So far as we know, anyway.) Nevertheless, the hippos have forced a “race against time in terms of permanent impacts to the environment and ecosystem,” Colombia’s environment minister, Susana Muhamad, told reporters on November 2, according to Nature. These particular water horses (so named because “hippopotamus” comes from the Greek for “river horse”) were imported — illegally, of course — to Colombia by infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The man had so much disposable cash that he reportedly buried millions of dollars in the ground and left it there, so spending it on four illegal two-ton water-dwelling mammals doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Unfortunately, when Escobar died, his four pets — one male and three females — escaped into the wild. And flourished. According to Nature, that’s because their adopted habitat has none of the predators that keep populations from exploding in native Africa, and also isn’t as subject to the droughts that can impact their living conditions. From the four animals that escaped in 1993, there are now estimated to be 181 to 215 in Colombia only 30 years later, the outlet reported — and the next 30 years could see that number surpass 1,000 if nothing is done. So Colombia is doing something — three things, in fact. First, the nation announced a plan to capture and sterilize 20 hippos before the end of this year. Other animals will be shipped off to zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, while some will likely be euthanized. “There are questions around how all this will be carried out, particularly the euthanasia, but it seems that the government is generally going in the right direction,” Jorge Moreno-Bernal, a biologist at the University of the North in Barranquilla, Colombia, told Nature. The government decided it had to take action after commissioning a study on the environmental impact of the hippopotamus population in Colombia. The study showed that not only were the hippos consuming resources needed by nature species — the beasts can consume over 200 pounds of grass in a single night’s feeding according to One Earth — but they were also “altering the composition of Colombia’s main river with their excrement,” Nature reported. Sterilizing the hippos is a costly and time-consuming proposition, and Muhamad told Nature that exporting them to other countries would be preferable. At least 70 hippos were wanted by people outside the country, which would reduce the current population in Colombia by a third or more, but exporting that many would likely cost about $3.5 million, Nature said. That expense, however, would be paid by those receiving the animals, Muhamad told the outlet. The Colombian government, however, would be footing the bill for the euthanasia program as well as sterilizing the animals. “Depending on how many we export and how many we can sterilize, we will see how many we will have to cull,” she added. At any rate, the expense will probably be a necessary investment in protecting the biodiversity of Colombia’s ecosystem. Cocaine hippos, as it turns out, can be even more troublesome than a cocaine bear — or even cocaine raccoons.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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