By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
A Mexican animal rescue association in the northwestern state of Sinaloa is working to save nearly 140 hippopotamuses that were once owned by the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Ernesto Zazueta, head of the Mexican Association of Zoos, Hatcheries and Aquariums, announced Friday, Feb. 24.
Working with another animal rescue program based out of India, the Sinaloa zookeepers are hoping to rescue the hippos in the lagoons and rivers of Escobar’s former Hacienda Nápoles that are currently at risk due to neglect.
Ten of the hippos are slated to be transferred to the Ostok Sanctuary in Culiacán, Sinaloa, and another 60 will be sent to India.
Zazueta said that a team of Sinaloa vicenarians have traveled to Antioquia, Colombia, to help in the rescue and transfer of the 140 hippos.
In the early 1980s, Escobar imported four hippos (three females and one male) from Africa as part of his private zoo at Hacienda Nápoles, a complex located in the municipality of Puerto Triunfo with artificial lakes and manmade forests. There the animals flourished and reproduced to their current bloat (herd).
Today, three decades later, with Escobar dead (having been killed by the police in December 1993), Hacienda Nápoles has been turned into a tourist attraction similar to a Disney park, but the park does not have the resources to maintain the current bloat of hippopotamuses.
Recently, Colombia declared the hippos an invasive species because they reproduced without any human intervention, and nobody took care of them.
Consequently, the park agreed to relocate the hippos.
“Hippos are a species that is at risk of extinction, and we do not want them to be killed or sterilized so we are working in this rescue program,” Zazueta said.
The third-largest terrestrial mammals (after elephants and rhinos), hippo bloats continue to decline worldwide due to widespread poaching for meat and ivory from the hippo’s long canine teeth.
Also, human encroachment into hippo habitats has decimated their historic range, and the species has already gone regionally extinct in three African countries.
Currently, hippos are confined mostly to protected areas, and over the past 10 years their populations have declined by as much as 20 percent.
Environmentalists estimate that currently there are only about 125,000 common hippos and 2,000 pygmy hippos left on the planet.
Hippos have been a part of the African ecosystem for millions of years, once ranging from the Nile River valley to the Cape of Good Hope.