In 30 years the descendants of the hippos of the Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar will be counted by thousands in Colombia if measures are not taken and perhaps the sympathy and curiosity that these animals “awaken” today will be transformed into the opposite.
Elizabeth Anderson is one of the Florida International University (FIU) scientists participating in an investigation into the potential ecological and socio-economic effects of the introduction of an African mega herbivore, the Hippopotamus amphibius, in Colombia, whose results have just been published.
“The objective of a scientific study like this is not to say whether it is good or bad that these animals are where they are,” he says in an interview with Efe.
This first scientific approach to the subject indicates that by 2050 there could be between 400 and 800 hippos in Colombia if an annual population growth rate of 7% is taken, but if an 11% increase is considered, something that “does not it’s unreal, “they could reach 5,000.
There are currently between 40 and 60 located in the middle of the Magdalena Basin, the main river in Colombia, which runs between the Andes and the Caribbean Sea along more than 1,500 kilometers and is the habitat of more than 2,700 species of animals, in addition to being the most populated river basin in the country and watering some of the main Colombian agricultural areas.
EVERYTHING BEGAN IN THE HACIENDA NAPLES
Pablo Escobar, the powerful head of the Medellin cartel, imported in 1981 from a zoo in the United States four female hippos and one male so that they were part of the collection of exotic animals of his Hacienda Napoles, a 3,000-hectare farm near Magdalena, Today dedicated to tourism.
After Escobar’s death in a police operation in Medellin in 1993, the animals went mostly to Colombian zoos, but, due to the difficulty of transferring them and the high maintenance cost, the hippos stayed where their “patron left them” “.
Their number was increasing and also their habitat, as some escaped from the hacienda and settled at ease in the Magdalena, where sightings and encounters with the locals began, who only knew these animals through the books of natural sciences or documentaries
Despite being dangerous animals, the Middle Magdalena hippos are generally seen with sympathy in towns in the area, which use them as a tourist attraction, although there are also people who express their fear that they will destroy crops or boats and rigging. the fishermen, says Anderson.
The same team of scientists, including several from Colombian universities, will publish this year an article based on surveys of more than a thousand people on the social changes that this species has introduced in Colombia for the most feared of drug traffickers
A UNIQUE AND COMPLEX CASE
An article that analyzes the different options for handling a case that Anderson defines as “complex” is also pending publication.
What is proposed is from giving contraceptives to females and sterilization of males to the eradication of an invasive species.
The longer it takes the authorities to take action, the more it will cost to put them into practice, says Anderson.
According to the study, hippo females can begin to reproduce at three years of age and give birth to a baby every two to three years.
Paradoxically while the African hippo is on the “red list” of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “vulnerable” species, with a population estimated at 115,000 to 130,000, which is stable but has disappeared from some places , those of Colombia are growing.
There is no predator in the Magdalena that can devour this mega herbivorous and the natives do not seem interested in hunting, unlike in Africa, Anderson says.
In 2009, Colombian hunters and soldiers killed one of the escapes of the Naples Treasury with government authorization, which provoked criticism from animal defenders.
The Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Black and Nare River Basins (CORNARE) has several programs for managing the hippo population, says Anderson.
According to the study, the objective of CORNARE is to stop population growth and relocate those who are free.
The ecological impact of Colombian hippos can be significant, as they are capable of modifying the physical environment in a way that alters the habitat and resource availability of a number of animal species.
A specimen can transfer 750 kilos of dry mass per year of carbon and nutrients from terrestrial ecosystems to aquatic ecosystems via defecation and excretion.
You can also change the geomorphology and hydrology of the middle Magdalena, says the study.
The scientists recommend that the Colombian authorities carry out a census of hippos that includes data on time of life, fertility and mortality, in order to make more accurate projections of population growth.