Escobar’s Hippos: the ultimate alien invasive species.

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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Landowners scramble to suspend fox trail hunts

Good news for some foxes this winter.

Following the news that the police have launched an investigation into the activity of the Hunting Office after it was alleged that hunt masters had held webinars on creating hunting “smokescreens” to cover illegal fox hunting, there has been a mad scramble by landowners to distance themselves from the “sport” and either ban or suspend permission to use their land.

The Hunting Office, was established in 2005 after the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced, and is the administrative, advisory and supervisory arm of the six governing Hunting Associations. Their purpose is to “set and maintain high standards of conduct in the activity of hunting with hounds”.

Police are apparently studying two webinars allegedly showing leading hunting figures and retired police officers discussing ways to create a “smokescreen” around unlawful hunts and ways of avoiding prosecution.

Landowners & Local Authorities rush to suspend permission.

This has resulted in a scramble by large landowners and local authorities to either suspend or ban trail hunting. These have included owners of the Lake District National Park, Forestry England which manages 1500 publicly owned woods and is England’s largest land manager, National Trust and United Utilities and Natural Resources Wales. There are calls for others such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Duchy of Cornwall and Church of England to follow suit.

Local authorities are also getting in on the act with Peterborough City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cherwell District Council banning or considering bans.

Taking an eagle owl along can be a smokescreen for illegal hunting.

Trail Hunting.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting of live foxes but did not disband hunting hound packs so the Hunts were able to continue their pastime by developing trail and drag hunting. Trail hunting is where fox scent is laid for the hounds to follow. Landowners license or give permission for trail hunts to take place on their land, but since 2005 there has been constant allegations that the Hunts use trail and drag hunts to cover illegal fox hunting. Allowing drag or trail hunting to take place under the law was always a recipe for future trouble, a fact well anticipated by the hunters. Allowing packs of hounds to continue careering around the countryside was always going to lead to confrontations with foxes.

To make matters worse other loopholes in the law make it relatively easy to circumvent what has always been a farcical ban. Among these are:

using 2 dogs to “flush a fox out of cover to be shot by a qualified marksman if it is being done to prevent damage to property, food crops, timber, fisheries or biological diversity, but of course the marksman could miss and the fox escape with the trained hounds in pursuit;

and “flushing a fox to a bird of prey” which allows a hunt to take a large bird of prey like an eagle owl along and as many hounds as they wish to flush out a fox “for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the wild mammal”.

Temporary good news for foxes.

Although all these bans are good news for many foxes this winter there is no guarantee that the suspensions will lead to permanent bans as it will all depend on police findings and the Criminal Prosecution Service as to whether there has been any criminal activity. If not normal service will probably begin as landowners will insist there is no evidence of wrong doing to justify bans.

Meanwhile sixteen years on from the Hunting Act ban we will still be in the situation of the anti hunt lobby accusing the Hunts of illegal activity and the Hunting lobby protesting injustice.

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