Pablo Escobar's hippos have been spotted in Antioqua, Colombia, and in the years since the infamous drug lord's death in 1994, have taken over the countryside. The large, dangerous beasts are remnants of Escobar's zoo, but they have been eating local residents' crops and crushing small cows to death.
Pablo Escobar's hippos were part of the zoo he built by his grandiose ranch, Hacienda Napoles, which included elephants, giraffes, and other animals smuggled from exotic locales. When the ranch was seized in the 1990s, all the animals were shipped off except the hippopotamuses, which multiplied from four to between 50 and 60, researchers estimated.
In 2007, the native Colombians began to notice the strange beasts with "small ears and a really big mouth"— none of them had seen the African creature before— and notified others.
"The fishermen, they were all saying, 'How come there's a hippo here?'" Carlos Valderrama of the charity Webconserva told BBC news. "We started asking around and of course they were all coming from Hacienda Napoles. Everything happened because of the whim of a villain."
Though they have not reported injured or killed any human beings, they are enlarging their territory.
"We have seen that hippos are very territorial and very aggressive," Valderrama explained. "They are not a tame animal. The risk for local populations to just leave them to browse around will be huge."
In Africa, hippos usually aren't that much of a problem— drought keeps the population low and the animals don't start mating until they are nine years or older. But because of the warm conditions and plentiful food and water in Antioqua, the females have been producing a calf a year starting as young as three.
"It's just like this crazy wildlife experiment that we're left with," San Diego University ecologist Rebecca Lewison told BBC. "Gosh! I hope this goes well."
Furthermore, there aren't many viable solutions to the growing problem. Relocating the African hippopotamuses is difficult because there is nowhere to put them, and bringing them back to Africa doesn't work because the animals could have diseases. No zoos in the region want any of the adult hippos, and an enclosure would cost $500,000, which is much more than the Colombian government could spare.
Castrating the male hippos was one option brought up, but Lewison said they are "very sensitive to chemical compounds" which could kill them. Even just killing off the male hippos for meat may not work; they can carry disease, and because researchers don't know how many hippos there are, one male could technically repopulate.