How this drug lord created a hippo problem in Colombia

Hey, you know Pablo Escobar, the drug lord.

Yeah, I’m at his old house right now here

in rural Colombia.

And I’m looking for some hippos.

But wait, no no no, hippos aren’t supposed to be here.

They’re not supposed to be here. Hippos exist here, not in Colombia.

Pablo Escobar was one of the most infamous and most successful drug lords in history.

The guy had an entire empire of cocaine production and trafficking throughout the world.

“One of the world’s most wanted men, drug trafficker Pablo Escobar is also accused of

murder and terrorism.” And with all of his drug money, he wanted

to build a private zoo.

He imported giraffes and exotic animals from

all over the world, including four hippos.

When Pablo Escobar was shot and killed in the early '90’s,

the government came in and reclaimed this estate.

And they took all the animals and distributed them out to other zoos,

except for the hippopotamuses.

They didn’t touch the hippos. They kind of just let them go free into the


These hippos are now a ticking time bomb.

Today there are 50 of these hippos.

They proliferated very quickly and they are now a big problem for the Colombian

government and a threat to these locals.

To understand why this is such a big deal, you have to understand hippos.

Hippos are huge mammals native to the continent of Africa and they’re pretty aggressive.

Some call hippos the most ferocious mammals on the planet.

But wait, aren’t hippos cute, cuddly animals?

There’s that one scene in “Fantasia” where the hippos are dancing ballet with the

crocodiles and it’s the crocodiles that seem scary,

not the hippos.

Well, the reality is actually the exact opposite.

Hippos routinely kill crocodiles.

More people are killed by hippos in Africa

every year than any other wild animal.

Escobar’s estate has since been turned into

a theme park where you can kind of wander around and look

at different animals.

And the hippopotamuses then became a

part of the spectacle. It’s actually a pretty cool park,

if I were staying here a few days, I would totally hang out here.

The audio track that’s playing that’s explaining these hippopotamuses,

frames them as this positive

experiment in conservation.

That they’re able to live in a natural environment

and thrive.

But I’m going to go talk to a biologist

who actually has a very different take.

So the problem here is that the park can’t actually contain the hippos.

They’ve actually started wandering and settling down in rivers and ponds hundreds of miles


Coming up to another group here,

it’s just three of them that hang out in this other pond.

So David and his team are tasked with figuring out a solution to this problem

of how to stop these hippos from moving around and what to do with the population as it grows.

But this is really hard stuff, mainly because no one’s ever had to do this before.

Here’s why this is a big problem.

What you’re looking at here is what David


Yes, this is hippo heaven.

In Africa, there’s usually droughts that stave off the proliferation of the hippos.

Here there aren’t droughts.

Without a natural predator or any sort of

competition, they’re sexually active earlier on in their lives,

they eat more, they are just living their best lives.

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth

and a growing invasive species population means a disruption to that diversity.

Invasive species are a top cause for a loss in biodiversity

and biologists have already started to notice that the hippos’ presence is reshaping these


But it’s not just a threat to the ecosystems.

Sometimes the hippos will come into town.

As the hippo population spreads, they’re

coming in contact with humans more and more often.

And David worries the locals here aren’t aware just how dangerous these animals can be.

So far no one has gotten hurt in one of these encounters,

but with the hippo population growing so quickly,

it won’t be long before an accident happens.

So David and his team have come up with a few strategies to tackle this problem.

First, they tried to physically contain them with fences and rock walls.

Okay, so fences don’t work.

Next, they tried to castrate the males, stop

them from reproducing.

But tranquilizing and castrating a hippo is dangerous, time-consuming, and expensive.

One solution is what you do to any big, dangerous invasive species

when they start to take over an ecosystem that they’re not native to.

You exterminate them.

This didn’t go well.

The hunting team went out, killed one of the hippos and then they posted this photo,

which sparked a national outcry.

People did not like the idea of these hippos

being hunted and killed.

The best solution, and the one David is really pushing for, is to just

move these hippos away.

But until that happens, Pablo Escobar’s

old estate will keep selling tickets to people who want to see the hippos.

David and his team will continue to struggle to contain the situation

and the hippos, the real winners in all of this, will continue to bask in the reality

that they truly do live in hippo heaven.