The alarming continued growth of Hacienda Naples’ hippo population has
led two South African wildlife management experts to conclude that
castration or slaughter of the males are the only viable options.
The coordinator of the rhinos in Tanzania Frankfurt Zoological Society,
Peter Morkel, and the zoologist of the South African Parks Unit, Michael
Knight, presented a report to the Colombian government proposing reproductive control through the castration or slaughter of the males. The hippos have no predators in Colombia and their population at
Hacienda Naples is expected to continue increasing by six per cent
annually. Clearly, this poses management issues.
As Knight points out, “The animals are not confined and walk around without restrictions. They are close to rivers which offer ideal access in and out of Hacienda Naples. They are a constant threat to the local population and we are lucky that they have not yet killed anyone.”
After a seven-day scouting trip through the Magdalena Medio region, the experts recommended that the 28 hippos be fenced in as much as possible, an a space of about 70 hectares with no access to rivers or the three nearby artificial lakes.
The hippos are a remnant of Cocaine King Pablo Escobar’s private zoo. Despite many other animals such as kangaroos, flamingos and elephants being given away to zoos after his death in 1993, Escobar’s hippos have continued to flourish on the property, now a theme park.
The specialists recommend that any escaping hippos be shot with high-powered rifles. “It is impossible to capture all the hippos that might escape because they are herd animals. Thiscan make finding and capturing them [dangerous],” said Knight. Castration is an option, but represents a high probability of death due to
complications of anesthesia and surgery,
The Environmental Viceminister of Colombia, Claudia Mora, said that
“these are preliminary recommendations” and that the Ministry must first “identify the
necessary resources to accomplish them”, both in terms of confinement and capture.
The issue of the hippos’ fate is delicate. In June, one of three fugitive hippos, known as “Pepe”, was gunned down by private security forces authorised by the Environment Ministry, sparking controversy in Colombia, where the hippos are fondly regarded.
However, Environment Ministry experts have determined that slaughter may be more expedient as the cost of recapturing fugitive hippos is extremely high – 80 million pesos or almost $USD40,000. Finding them could also take up to four months per animal and put those who carry out the hunt and care for the general hippo population at imminent risk.