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Vet explains how difficult it is to take action against Pablo Escobar's rampant cocaine hippos
Featured Image Credit: dpa picture alliance / IanDagnall Computing / Alamy Stock Photo

Vet explains how difficult it is to take action against Pablo Escobar's rampant cocaine hippos

The creatures are 'one of many problems' the drug lord left Colombia

Notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar had a huge impact on his home country of Colombia - in more ways than one.

In the 80s, the Colombian built the biggest cocaine empire on the planet, all the while building his own personal zoo on the side.

No stranger to illegal imports, the former head of the Medellin Cartel had four hippos shipped in for his zoo - which was also home to kangaroos, giraffes and elephants.

After Escobar was killed by police in 1993, the government seized control of his estate and rounded up most of the animals, but the hippos were abandoned due to the cost and logistical issues associated with transporting them.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the so-called 'cocaine hippo' population has grown to around 120 - and scientists have warned this number could grow to almost 1,500 by 2040.

Long story short, Escobar is still causing Colombian authorities headaches from beyond the grave.

"Colombia is a heaven for them, but of course they are very difficult animals, very aggressive, very difficult to keep," vet Carlos Valderrama told the BBC.

This aggression makes them dangerous, and in their native Africa they kill more people than any other mammal.

What's more, the urine and faeces produced by the animals is toxic and contains bacteria that is dangerous to humans and other creatures.

The mammals roam free north of Bogota around the Magdalena River, but experts warn they could do irreversible environmental damage if the population is allowed to grow unchecked.

In a bid to stem this growth, Valderrama was given the unenviable task of castrating a particularly aggressive cocaine hippo back in 2007.

REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

"Actually just to administer the anaesthetics is difficult, and they die easily under anaesthesia," he said.

As for the castration itself, he explained: "That's difficult because they have internal testicles. You have to go through a skin that is around two, three centimetres thick - so it's like a bulletproof vest.

"Then you have to go through an eight centimetres final layer of fat.

"It was very stressful. We only have a 50 percent chance to be able to do it properly without the animal dying."

All in all it took a seven-man team 12 hours to sever the hippo from its balls.

PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Plans to castrate more of the coke hippos have since stalled, and back in February the creatures were added to a list of 'introduced, invasive' species, with an environment agency chief stating that a cull 'could be the only way to stop the problem'.

Valderrama said: "So many things happened because of what he [Escobar] did and this just being one of them that we are still trying to solve.

"Colombian people are resilient and we will try our best to solve the situation... the sooner the better."

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Topics: World News, Animals, Drugs