TLDR? Colombia is home to hippos, but they’re an invasive species that was introduced in the 1980s.
Like many areas of the world, Colombia’s ecosystems are not completely pristine or unaltered by human activity. There are several challenging problems faced by the country. They’ll have to be met to preserve the beauty and health of their natural landscapes.
One common problem that conservationists face is the presence of invasive species. These are non-native species that threaten the health of an ecosystem by their presence.
In Colombia’s case, there’s a very distinctive invasive species that’s been making headlines: the African hippopotamus. Here’s a bit of info and background into this rather strange phenomenon!
Where Did The Hippos Come From?
Well, they didn’t swim across the ocean just to cross that possibility from your mind. The hippos arrived in Colombia via a strange avenue, which has to do with a troubling element of Colombia’s past which has thankfully concluded.
The original hippos of Colombia were kept in the lavish palatial estate of the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Escobar kept the animals as exotic pets and a sizable menagerie of other creatures he imported.
His properties were left vacant after Escobar’s death and the dissolution of his criminal empire. The hippos he had acquired fled into the jungle, along with many other animals he kept.
Unlike most of the other species, the Escobar’s hippos adapted easily to the generous jungle climate of Colombia, for which they are well adapted.
Living Large In The Tropics
Decades after Escobar’s death, his domesticated hippos have taken to the climate of Colombia very well. They have subsequently flourished.
The growth of the hippo population has impacted the ecosystems that they’ve begun to inhabit in negative ways. This is because as you might guess, an animal as large as a hippopotamus doesn’t quite fly under the radar in terms of its needs and behavior.
Many of these ecosystems have endangered plants and animals. that are sensitive to fluctuations in their environment.
Experts worry that if the Colombian hippo population is allowed to grow unchecked, it could significantly impact the environments that they dwell in.
The hippos have found themselves, newcomers, in an environment with no predators large enough to prey on them. The creatures are so massive that even large predators like anacondas and jaguars simply look for easier things to eat.
The fact that there is a lack of natural predators has given experts worry that the hippos might find a large amount of success in their ability to reproduce. This potentially enhances the set of issues that they bring with them.
Gaining Iconic Status
Hippos can be quite dangerous to humans that live close to their habitats. Despite this, many of the regions in Colombia where the hippos have taken up residence have adopted them as an informal mascot and tourism incentives.
For example, while on a bus ride from Medellin to Bogota, the bus stopped in a lowland marsh area that’s connected to the Magdalena river. This is one of the rivers where the Colombian hippos have set up shop.
At the restaurant attached to the bus station, there was an enormous statue depicting a hippo! As I took a look around the town, I saw that there were several other images attached to stores or other locations.
This all indicated that the hippos have taken on some kind of cultural significance. All despite the potential problems that the animals pose to ecosystems and human populations.
Indeed, they have gained some affection from the locals that dwell side-by-side with them.
The Government Steps In
The hippos seemed to have gained the affection of some of Colombia’s residents. That being said, the Colombian government doesn’t seem to feel the same way.
The government has officially declared the hippos an invasive species of concern. It has begun numerous programs to attempt to eradicate the animals from the jungles and waterways. They seek to uproot the animals where they have established themselves in.
Some of these programs include attempts to inoculate the hippos to prevent them from breeding. There are also attempts to incite local hunters to attempt to take the hippos.
These measures have been met somewhat controversially by locals. As I mentioned before, I have often taken to the hippos as an interesting and lovable mascot for the regions they inhabit.
However, scientific experts tend to agree that preventing the hippo problem from getting too large would be a good idea. This is to prevent more ecological damage from being done.
Ecotourism has long been one of Colombia’s most attractive sectors of its economy. Its biodiversity has been one of the envies of the world due to the sheer level of species that are available to observe.
Therefore, it makes sense that the authorities in Colombia would be concerned with keeping whatever kinds of invasive species in check.
Another Sign of a Changing Colombia
The ability of someone like Pablo Escobar to abuse the limits of bringing exotic animals to keep as personal playthings has thankfully been quite diminished in Colombia in recent years. The safety and security, and not to mention the economy, of the country have been reaching new heights in the past couple of decades.
The intersections of culture, environment, and law are rather complex when dealing with such a distinctive animal. At the end of the day, it’s encouraging to see that the government of Colombia is taking proactive steps to deal with this problematic invasive species.
Although, it might be tough to replace all those hippo signs and statues in the towns that have grown to love their strange new neighbors. Maybe at the end of the day, they’ll let a couple of the hippos stick around, under strict observation of course!
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