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Escobar’s Hippos On the Move

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Published on the 30th of May 2023

Escobar's Hippos On the Move

What began as a collection of four hippos in Escobar’s private zoo has multiplied into a population exceeding 80. These “cocaine hippos” threaten the local ecosystem and human safety with their aggressive nature and territorial behaviour. Consequently, Escobar’s Hippos are on the move. 

As efforts are in motion to control and relocate them, the journey of Escobar’s hippos unfolds, highlighting the complex challenges faced in managing this invasive species.

Key Points:

  • Pablo Escobar brought four hippos to his private zoo, unknowingly setting in motion a chain of events leading to a burgeoning population of over 80 hippos in Colombia’s waterways.
  • The uncontrolled proliferation of these “cocaine hippos” has had significant ecological impacts. 
  • Their aggression and territorial behavior threaten the local ecosystem and human safety. 
  • Their presence has caused traffic accidents, damaged crops, and disrupted the balance of the local fauna.
  • Managing the growing hippo population has proven to be a formidable task. 

The Back Story of the Unintended Ecological Impact

By Colombian National Police – Colombia National Registry; Colombian National Police, Public Domain.

Pablo Escobar, an infamous drug lord, is renowned for his criminal empire, but his legacy extends to an unforeseen ecological crisis: his hippos. Escobar imported four hippos to his extravagant estate, unaware that they would multiply into a population exceeding 80, wreaking havoc on Colombia’s waterways.

Dubbed “cocaine hippos,” these non-native creatures threaten the local ecosystem and human safety due to their aggression and territorial nature. Despite efforts to relocate them, the process proves challenging and costly. Controversially, some suggest culling as a solution, sparking debates among scientists, animal rights activists, and local communities.

Escobar’s hippos were left to roam free when he was killed in 1993, initially viewed as innocuous. However, their growing numbers triggered significant environmental consequences. Though associated with drug trafficking, recent research challenges this claim, implying that Escobar acquired the hippos for his private zoo. Irrespective of their origins, the issue persists: hippos have become a formidable challenge in Colombia.

Estimates suggest a population of 80 to 120 hippos, steadily increasing. Sterilization programs and culling have been proposed but face opposition from advocates and locals who consider the hippos a valuable tourist attraction.

Escobar’s hippos represent a captivating and complex story. Regardless of their debated origins, these creatures have indelibly impacted Colombia’s environment and people. As discussions persist, the question of addressing this invasive species looms large alongside the enduring legacy of a notorious figure.

Challenges in Controlling a Formidable Population

Escobar's Hippos On the Move

Governor Aníbal Gaviria Correa’s call for action after a hippo was run over on a highway in Antioquia led to demands for a quick response from the Colombian Minister of Environment, Susana Muhamad. 

While sterilization measures were deemed insufficient to control the population, transferring the hippos to a new location faced significant delays. Minister Muhamad highlighted the careful consideration of transfer processes to avoid creating problems elsewhere.

Strategies for Containment and Controversial Measures

Escobar's Hippos On the Move

Researchers from the National University of Colombia and the Alexander Von Humboldt Institute have proposed containment strategies, including animal transfers and confinement in spaces with restricted movement to reduce mating. 

However, the most controversial measure they suggest is “control hunting,” which faced widespread repudiation when attempted in 2009. Zazueta emphasizes the importance of rescuing the hippos to prevent their annihilation and opposes castration, highlighting that these animals are classified as at-risk.

Ernesto Zazueta’s Rescue Efforts and Future Plans

Escobar's Hippos On the Move

Ernesto Zazueta, an experienced Sinaloan businessman with a history of providing services to zoos in Mexico, has stepped in to host ten hippos in his animal sanctuary. Additionally, Zazueta has found a shelter in India that will care for another 60 of these hippos. 

Coaxing the hippos with bait, Zazueta plans to use harmless traps for their safe relocation. Ultimately, the aim is to return the Nile hippos to their original African habitat. Zazueta’s dedication to rescuing animals from abusive environments has been exemplified in previous successful efforts.

Escobar’s Legacy on the Move 


In Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, the engines roar as workers construct a new pond, which will soon become the home of ten descendants of Pablo Escobar’s famous pet hippos. 

These animals will travel from the Colombian region of Antioquia to Culiacán in an operation financed by conservationist Ernesto Zazueta, owner of the animal shelter. This ambitious endeavor costs $450,000 and aims to provide a safe haven for these hippos.

A New Home in Ostok Sanctuary


Upon arrival in Culiacán, the hippos will inhabit an enclosed area with a pool of water and dedicated caretakers. The Ostok Sanctuary closed to the public, provides a stress-free environment for the hippos’ effective rehabilitation. Joining Freddy, the only hippo currently residing in the sanctuary, the newcomers will enjoy a growing space surrounded by a landscape of dry trees, with plans for natural shade and greenery as the land transforms with the rains. Structures already built ensure shade and comfort for the hippos in the interim.

The Bottomline


In conclusion, the movement of Escobar’s hippos presents a captivating tale of unintended consequences and ongoing efforts to address their ecological challenges. The issue has garnered attention from the growing population in Colombia’s waterways to the debates surrounding containment strategies and sparked discussions among scientists, activists, and local communities. 

With the involvement of dedicated individuals like Ernesto Zazueta, who aims to provide a haven for the hippos in the Ostok Sanctuary, there is hope for their rehabilitation and eventual return to their original African habitat. 

The story of Escobar’s hippos serves as a reminder of the complex consequences of human actions and the importance of responsible stewardship when dealing with invasive species.

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