Pablo Escobar's escaped 'cocaine hippos' terrorizing Colombian rivers

‘They are out of control’: Pablo Escobar’s ‘Cocaine hippos’ have overrun Colombia’s waterways with their prodigious breeding after four escaped from the drug kingpins compound in the 1990s – sparking calls them to be culled

  • Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar bought 4 hippos from California zoo in the early 1980s 
  • They were known as his ‘cocaine hippos’ because of the kingpin’s love of buying exotic animals with his ill-gotten gains 
  • In the years after his death in 1993 four escaped the compound  
  • But decades later they are 100-strong herd that rampage his former village
  • Their toxic urine and faeces are killing wildlife, say eco-experts 
  • They are now the largest invasive species in the world with largest, wild hippo population outside of Africa
  • By 2040 numbers could rise to 1,500, making their environmental impact irreversible and their numbers impossible to control, a new study has claimed 
  • The King of Cocaine was once estimated to be the seventh richest person in the world, worth around $59billion in today’s money

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, pictured in the 1980s, was one of the richest king pins in the world, until his death by police shoot out in 1993

Around 100 hippos descended from four illegally imported into Colombia by the drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s are overrunning Colombia’s water-ways and poisoning wildlife with their toxic urine, sparking calls for a cull.   

The drug lord and head of the Medellin Cartel was once the seventh richest man in the world worth an estimated $59billion in today’s money, controlling over 80% of the cocaine shipped to the US. 

With his ill-gotten gains he liked to buy exotic animals for his private zoo, including four hippos that he kept outside his mansion in Doradal, a town outside the city of Medellin.

But after the 44-year-old’s death by police shoot-out in 1993 four of the animals escaped, establishing the largest hippo herd outside Africa.

Now, dozens of the descendants of the original three females and one male roam the wetlands north of Bogota, causing untold damage to local wildlife with their ‘toxic’ urine and feces. 

By 2040 the invasive population could swell to almost 1,500 individuals, making their environmental impact irreversible and their numbers impossible to control, a new study has claimed.    

A local shines a flashlight on one of the wild hippos. They are considered an unofficial mascot by the town who have resisted attempts to cull the beasts who are destroying the local wildlife 

He used his great wealth to buy exotic animals for his private zoo. But after his death four hippos escaped into the wild and multiplied, with a herd of around 100 now. Locals put signs up warning about the presence of the animals 

David Echeverri Lopez, a researcher at the regional environmental agency Cornare who led the 2013 sterilization effort, told The Washington Post that Colombia is a ‘hippos paradise’ with the animals spending hours grazing and basking in the Magdalena River, with no large predators to keep numbers down.  

He said: ‘I’ve worked for many years to understand the problem and find solutions, but the problem keeps happening over and over again. The only thing that changes is the number of hippos.’ 

Escobar’s former pleasure palace has been turned into a crumbling zoo called Hacienda Napoles, where a few of the recaptured hippos are housed and visited by tourists 

Attempts to kill the animals have been met with resistance by locals who see the hippos as unofficial mascots. 

In 2018, resident Claudia Patricia Camacho told the news program Noticias Caracol: ‘The hippopotamus is the town pet. You could say that he now takes to the street as if they were his own.’

Gift shops in nearby Puerto Triunfo sell hippo keychains and T-shirts.

At Hacienda Napoles, the zoo opened on Escobar’s former pleasure palace and private zoo, a few of the recaptured animals attract tourists, whilst their wild cousins occasionally plod into town. 

In 2013 a judge issued a ruling making it illegal to kill hippos in the country, sparking the start of the sterilization campaign.

But Echeverri Lopez said that sterilization of the 4,000lb animals is difficult to do and going too slowly, with the team managing only one a year, whilst the population grows by about 10%.    

Last year a rancher was bitten and thrown in the air during a surprise attack, breaking his hip, leg and a few ribs.  

Echeverri Lopez said: ‘These are animals who have turned themselves into an emblem for a whole community of people. It’s not possible to just take them away.’ 

 The theme park is in Doradel, a town outside of Medellin. These hippos are pictured at the park in 2020, while their wild cousins are now the biggest wild herd outside of Africa

Other scientists have raised concern that the invasive group are killing local wildlife with their poisonous urine and feces.  

Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist at the University of California at San Diego who has worked with Echeverri to evaluate the hippos’ environmental impacts, said: ‘We saw oxygen levels that were getting to levels where you would expect to see fish start to go belly up.’ 

Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez, a Colombian ecologist working at the University of Quintana Roo in Mexico, said that the hippos threatened native species including the giant, guinea-pig-like capybaras that feed on the grasses and fruits now consumed by hippos, as well as endangered Antillean manatees. 

Castelblanco-Martínez said the only ‘efficient strategy to deal with the invasion’ is the ‘extraction’ of 30 hippos a year.  

The U.S. nonprofit Animal Balance is collecting donations to help pay for this effort. 

In September 2020, the nephew of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar said that he found a plastic bag with $18million of cash hidden in the wall at one of his uncle’s houses.

Nicolas Escobar said he had a ‘vision’ which showed him where to look for the money in the apartment in Medellin, Colombia.   

Nicolas (pictured) said he had a ‘vision’ which showed him where to look for the money in the apartment in Medellin, Colombia

Escobar, who died in a shootout with police in 1993, was said to be the seventh richest person in the world at the peak of his powers. Pictured: the Pablo Escobar neighborhood in Medellin

Rumors of Escobar’s hidden fortunes have been circulating for years since his death.  

The ‘King of Cocaine’ reportedly hid millions in his many properties across Colombia.

He amassed an estimated net worth of US $30billion by the time of his death, equivalent to $59billion today.

During his time at the helm of the Medellin Cartel he controlled over 80 per cent of the cocaine shipped to the US.


Pablo Escobar, the godfather of the Medellin Cartel in Colombia in February , 1988

By the mid-1980s, Pablo Escobar’s cartel was bringing in $420m a week, nearly $22 billion a year, which is £322m a week. 

In 1989, he was the Forbes seventh richest man in the world. 

Escobar had to spend $2,500 a month, about £1,900, on rubber bands, to keep his notes in order. 

He apparently once set fire to $2 million in order to keep his daughter warm. 

His nickname was Robin Hood after he gave out money to the poor and built housing for the homeless.

Escobar reportedly wrote off 10 per cent of his profits per year, $250 million per month, because it was being damaged by water, eaten by rats, or otherwise destroyed.

He also had to buy a new plane because the one he used to bring money over was too small to hold so much cash.  

He owned luxury cars, planes and even two submarines at one point. 

In 2009, $8 million (£5 million) had been discovered at a hidden complex built in the jungle, where there had been cocaine factories.

Christian de Berdouare, a chicken restaurant owner, who bought Escobar’s former Miami mansion in 2014 for $10million, believes there could be hidden treasure stashed inside the property.  

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