Escobar’s Hippos: the ultimate alien invasive species.

Pablo Escobar's hippos

Is it time to allow a little disorder in nature?

You cannot get a more obvious and intrusive alien invasive species running wild in a foreign land than hippos. In the normal course of events such a situation could not happen but in the case of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar’s and his hippos in Colombia, it did, and it is now causing scientists consternation and disagreement.

Pablo Escobar managed to import legally and illegally a whole private zoo at his Hacienda Napoles from all parts of the world in the 1980’s and these included four illegally imported hippos. How its possible to smuggle such large animals into a country is another matter, but there were also giraffes, elephants, kangaroos and many other species.

“one of the greatest challenges of invasive species in the world”.

When Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993 many animals were left to fend for themselves including the hippos who took up residence in a local river and in the space of thirty years have increased their numbers to a staggering 80-100. Some university study groups and scientists have wildly estimated that there could be as many as 1,500 by 2035 if the Colombian government do not act now.

The hippos themselves seem well suited to their new found environment and have pulled off a wonderful breeding achievement perhaps proving that you do not necessarily need human intervention to breed animals. But many scientists and conservationists hate invasive species and prefer everything to remain as nature intended all in its right order and place. This is because in some circumstances they eradicate indigenous animals and plants and ruin ecosystems and biodiversity and usually the knee jerk reaction is always to kill the offenders.

Hippos in Colombia
It is amazing how animals can breed and look after themselves without our help.

Protected by the Government.

There have been attempts to neuter them but with so many this is now proving impractical. Unusually in this kind of scenario the hippos are presently protected by the Colombian government. This is mainly due to the fact that it is difficult and expensive to relocate them and more importantly the locals love them and do not want them killed. They are also boosting the local tourist economy, and no one so far has been seriously injured or killed so at the moment they are free to roam.

Now they are established leave them be.

One has to wonder why there wasn’t earlier intervention to remove them before their numbers got out of control and why wildlife rescue, university study groups and scientists didn’t step in sooner. Now that they are established it seems only fair to leave them be and the colony could prove useful in the future with the way things are in Africa . There are many studies in progress to monitor them so there could be many lessons to be learned from leaving other animals in similar situations to survive without our intervention.

Invasive species are a worldwide problem mainly caused as always by the hand of humans abandoning exotic pets or historically introducing them to benefit human occupation. In Australia and New Zealand it is feral cats and dogs, in Europe it is animals like the coypu. The USA has problems with animals like crocodiles, turtles and snakes and in the UK it is grey squirrels, mink and ruddy ducks.

We blame invasive species for all sorts of things which is a tad rich when you consider the major invasive species at work on the planet has always been homo sapiens, who wherever they have decided to take up residence have irreparably destroyed the local biodiversity and continue to do so. Perhaps it is time for us to allow a bit of disorder in nature if it helps animals.

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.

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