Scientists say Pablo Escobar's hippos must be culled as population surges
Escobar illegally imported the hippos for his private zoo.
Scientists have warned that the offspring of hippos illegally imported to Colombia by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar must be culled to avert a biodiversity disaster.
Escobar established his own private zoo at his mansion as he built the world's largest cocaine empire during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a number of exotic animals added to his collection over the years.
Many of the animals were rounded up or died after Escobar was killed by police in 1993. The hippos, however, were abandoned in the sprawling grounds of Escobar's luxurious Hacienda Nápoles estate, where, with no natural predators, they have flourished.
Despite government attempts to control the animals' reproduction, their numbers are thought to have doubled in the last eight years - reaching a figure of somewhere between 65 and 80.
A group of scientists has now warned that the population increase could be dangerous to the area's biodiversity, with their presence a threat to some species of indigenous flora and fauna. Factoring in the current rate at which their numbers are increasing, they also state that there could be around 1,500 hippos living wild by 2035 if no action is taken.
"I believe that it is one of the greatest challenges of invasive species in the world," said ecologist, Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez who oversaw the group's study.
The concept of culling the animals has proved unpopular with many locals, who have grown attached to the animals. A government ban on hunting the animals is also currently in place in the country, which complicates any potential to carry out a cull.