Hippos Take Over Colombia

July 10, 2018


Dr. Ian Malcom, the dour mathematician in the Jurassic Park franchise played by Jeff Goldblum, is constantly remonstrating about the awesome power of genetics, “Life Cannot be contained!” Well, if the late drug lord Pablo Escobar were still with us he would be the first to agree. You see, Escobar created a kind of African Safari Park on his Colombian estate, built with his ill-gotten gains from the drug trade.  It was populated with African megafauna, including hippopotamuses, who thrived in a climate similar to their African home, with the added hippo benefit of lack of predators that might keep the population in check.

When Escobar went on to his reward in December of 1993, the government moved in and dismantled his ranch, which involved finding good homes for the menagerie. It is easy to understand why the government was not interested in rounding up and shipping out the hippos (euthanasia is not an option in hippophilic Colombia), so the hippos were placed in an enclosure which was immediately compromised. With access to a nearby river, the hippos followed the biblical entreaty to “go forth and multiply,” which is something they’re pretty good at, given that there are now around 40 of them.

With hunting them and gunning them down not a possibility, the government has been examining alternatives, such as castration (recruiting veterinarians may present a challenge) or contraceptive darts, but there does not appear to be a currently viable alternative.

Hippos are the third largest land mammal and kill far more people in Africa than lions, elephants or cheetahs, with approximately 2900 deaths attributed to them every year. Although they appear rather ungainly on land, they can run at 20 miles per hours for short spurts, and when in a foul mood (which they usually are) can overturn a truck. So Colombians, in addition to the other hazards that they must face, may have to accept hippo attacks as just another day in the park. In the immortal words of Dr. Ian Malcom, “No, I'm, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."



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