Colombia to Transfer 70 ‘Cocaine Hippos’ to Zoos in India and Mexico

Colombia has announced a plan to transfer more than 70 hippos, descendants of four African hippos illegally imported by the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, to zoos in India and Mexico. The plan is part of an effort to control the population of these ‘cocaine hippos’, which have grown from four to an estimated 130 since Escobar’s death in 1993.

Notably, Escobar had smuggled these four hippos from Africa or the United States, illegally in the 1980s, to go with his collection of other exotic animals in his private zoo at his Hacienda Napoles ranch. After Escobar died in 1993, the hippos escaped from his estate and established themselves in Colombia’s Magdalena River and some small lakes nearby — part of the country’s main watershed.[0]

The Colombian government declared the hippos a toxic invasive species in 2022 and initially planned to sterilize or kill them.[1] But the plans were scrapped, at least partly due to public pressure, including a lawsuit in a U.S. court (the suit was largely symbolic, though, as it carried no legal consequence in Colombia).[1]

The goal of the plan is to take the hippos to countries where these institutions have the capacity to receive them, and to house them properly and control their reproduction. Sending the hippos back to their native land of Africa was “not allowed,” according to Colombian Governor Aníbal Gaviria, as doing so would risk introducing new diseases to the African ecosystem.[2]

Hippos are renowned for their aggression and territoriality. They kill an estimated 500 people per year in Africa, and weigh up to an Earth-shattering three tonnes.[3] Several studies have also highlighted the potentially destructive effects of allowing the Colombian hippo population to continue to grow, including more cyanobacteria and toxic algal blooms in the lakes and rivers where they live, which can reduce water quality and cause mass fish deaths, affecting local fishing communities.[0]

According to Professor Echeverry, “Hippos live in herds, they are quite aggressive. They are very territorial and are plant eaters in general.[2]

0. “Pablo Escobar's ‘cocaine hippos' spark conservation row”, 2 Mar. 2023,

1. “3 Ton Invasive Species Spreading in South America” AZ Animals, 3 Mar. 2023,

2. “Colombia plans to send 70 ‘cocaine hippos' to India and Mexico, governor says”, 4 Mar. 2023,

3. “Some of Pablo Escobar's Hippos May Get Relocated to India! |” The Weather Channel, 3 Mar. 2023,

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