A group of hippos formerly owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar will soon leave South America.
Colombia plans to ship about 70 so-called cocaine hippos to India and Mexico according to a tweet Thursday by the governor of the province of Antioquia, where the mammals are located. Although some researchers have suggested that hippos could restore the Colombian ecosystem, they are still considered an invasive species.
The animals, descendants of four African hippos that Escobar imported illegally in the 1980s, became a tourist attraction after he was killed by police in 1993. However, their population has since grown to more than 130 in the Antioquia area and spread well beyond Escobar’s hacienda on the Naples ranch.
Environmental officials estimate that number could rise to 400 in the next eight years, increasing pressure to move the hippos to overseas sanctuaries, according to an Associated Press report Friday.
“It’s possible, we already have experience of relocating hippos in zoos across the country,” David Echeverri López, a spokesman for the Cornare Environment Agency who is leading the effort, told the outlet.
Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal welfare and welfare at Antioquia’s Department of Environment, told the AP these relocations will only affect hippos living outside of Escobar’s ranch — and not in her controlled environment.
This mission, which has reportedly been brewing for more than a year, marks a major departure from Colombia’s original plan to sterilize or kill the animals – which led to a lawsuit that made them the first non-human creatures to be sued by a US -Court were legally regarded as human beings.
However, hippos are far from sociable and kill 500 people a year in their native Africa, according to National Geographic. The highly territorial animal can weigh thousands of pounds, with a bite almost three times stronger than that of a lion.
The hippos in front of Escobar’s ranch also threaten the biodiversity of local rivers with their faeces. The booming population has crowded out other animals like manatees and capybaras, prompting desperate measures.
The plan is to lure the hippos into iron containers to transport them to Rionegro’s José María Córdova International Airport, 150 kilometers away. 60 will be flown to the Greens Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India, while 10 will be heading to zoos in Mexico.
Though some have reportedly described the animals as “village pets,” others are relieved to see the hippos disappear. For example, Alvaro Molina of Antioquia told CBS News he was attacked by a hippopotamus while fishing last year.