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Pablo Escobar’s Big Fat Curse: The Strange Affair of Hippos Terrorizing Colombia

There is a serious problem lurking in the jungle rivers of Colombia – a menace that was left in the wake of one of the world’s most infamous criminals, to torment and afflict the country that murdered him. It is a strange, and terrifying byproduct of a historic drug cartel; one final gift from the Medellin Cartel to the people and government of Colombia.

Pablo Escobar was one of the most successful criminals in history – he was making around $21.9 billion a year, supplied 80% of the cocaine smuggled to the US during his career, and was regarded with legendary esteem by the people of Colombia, for whom he built neighborhoods, parks and provided other social services. He’s been fictionalized in television series (like Narcos and Escobar, el Patron del Mal) and novels, romanticized by the media. The man was dangerous, powerful, clever, and totally unpredictable.

But beyond the violence Escobar sowed, beyond the drugs he moved, the legends he inspired, and the money he made, Escobar also had a deep affection for exotic animals – as many exorbitantly affluent people do. His affection for strange and foreign creatures led him to engage wholesomely in the black market animal trade, through which he acquired a multitude of species from Africa: zebras, rare goats, ostriches, bison, and hippopotami.

The man had a full on zoo operating on his Hacienda Napoles property – in fact, after his demise in 1993, the Colombian government took over the house and land it sat on, and for years afterwards it housed the bison, goats, and ostrich that were left behind… but one of the inhabitants escaped sometime between 1993 (when Escobar was killed) and 2007. A very dangerous beast, one that has since learned to thrive in the Colombian jungles.

About 7 years ago the Colombian government started receiving phone calls reporting strange and unknown animals lurking near and in the rural rivers of the countryside. The mysterious monsters puzzled authorities and locals, until they realized what, exactly, they were: hippos. Pablo’s hippos. And they were causing some serious problems…

The few hippos he had bought from a California zoo had escaped, breaking through the compound’s fence and spilling into the nearby Magdalena River after their owner’s demise. In the jungle they bred, and flourished into a pack of over 50 animals. This group has since raided humble villages, broken fences, and poisoned rivers with their superabundant poop. They have no natural predators, and the environment is exactly perfect for them, so they have thrived in northern Colombia. They have thrived so well in fact, that they earned the official grand title of Earth’s most successful invasive species.

There was no clear solution for the problem, either. The hippos were having great orgies and reproducing like fat slimy rabbits, and no one had a clue as to how to stop them. The pandemic was spiraling out of control. And although there were no human casualties, there surely will be should this problem get any worse.

Hippopotamus are one of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. Don’t let their portly, funny-looking demeanor fool you – they will tear you to pieces over nothing without batting an eyelash. They are extremely aggressive animals and have been known to attack humans in boats or on land with apparently no motivation or provocation. They are widely considered to be one of Africa’s most dangerous animals…. And perhaps, soon they will be one of Colombia’s.

The Colombian government was no doubt stumped. They’d spent years fighting, chasing, and hunting down Pablo Escobar, and now, almost twenty years after his death, his animals are still causing serious problems for the Colombian feds. So what could they do? Instead of exporting the creatures back to Africa, or euthanizing them in an attempt to prevent further contamination of the native environment, officials decided to castrate every Pablo Escobar hippo in Colombia. Not unlike the policy they adopted towards his men and his cartel.

The attempt worked, but not entirely. It didn’t put the Colombian hippo population boom to a dead stop, but it did curb it. And while this has helped, it hasn’t totally solved the issue – locals still complain about the hippos on a regular basis. They are becoming dangerous to farmers and other natives in the area because they are becoming bolder – wandering through city streets, and even chasing people straight out of villages.

Fishermen and farmers have called upon the government to cull the current population as they culled Pablo’s cartel. But only time will tell if the Colombian government adopts that strategy. Until this problem is sorted out to completion, the Pablo Escobar hippopotamus of Colombia will continue to torment local communities, like some kind of ghostly presence left by Pablo himself to plague the government that chased him into his own grave.


Will Brendza
Will Brendza is a freelance journalist and aimless adventurer based out of the Rocky Mountains, a fearless student of science and a keen outdoorsman. After having witnessed firsthand the environmental abominations taking place both abroad and at home in the US, he resolved to spread the knowledge and drive for global sustainability. When he isn't writing or reading a good book, he can usually be found exploring foreign countries, savoring craft breweries or somewhere deep within the wilderness of Colorado."

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