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Is this the largest invasive species in the world? Hippos in Colombia

21/01/2009 10:00:45

One of Escobar's hippos. Photo credit Carlos Andres.

The problem is how hippo critical

Thanks to Carlos Andres Lopez for the information and photos.

January 2009. Pablo Escobar, the notorious drugs lord, had so much money that he didn't know what to do with it. Amongst other things (A bullring, an airstrip, an ersatz Jurassic Park with half a dozen immense concrete dinosaurs.), he stocked part of his huge estate with hundreds of exotic animals, including elephants, camels, giraffes, ostriches and zebras. He created a lake for hippos and four were released into the lake.

Escobar was killed by Colombian security forces in 1993 and the ownership of the ranch has passed into government hands. All the exotic animals have long since disappeared, except the hippos. The original four founded a herd that now numbers 19, and no one knows what to do with them. They are becoming a pest as they roam the local countryside at night looking for food - One was recently shot by a local farmer some 3 miles away. The hacienda is not securely fenced and the park management does not have the funds to erect a suitable fence, or to feed the animals.

Baby hippo split from the herd for its own safety. Photo credit Carlos Andres.

Baby hippo split from the herd for its own safety. Photo credit Carlos Andres.

The newest addition to the herd has had to be segregated from the rest of the herd as after several of the adults turned on it.

Becoming dangerous
Sadly, unless something is done soon, either the hippos will injure or kill someone during their night time rambles, or the hippos will have to be killed as the problem is becoming unmanageable. So if there is anyone out there who needs 19 hippos and who has a few Colombian pesos to spare, please get in touch. Realistically, the hippos will probably have to be killed soon before they do any further damage, and before they start trying to colonise new lakes or rivers, and spreading out across the region.

Invasive species - the door is still open
Whilst this is a very large problem, the problem of invasive species is a growing one around the world. And once a species has taken hold, it is virtually impossible to eradicate it (and why would we? Read Chris Packham's article, Ecological cleansing), think of grey squirrels & ring tailed parakeets in the UK, Burmese pythons in Florida, Cane toads in Australia and possums in New Zealand.

Yet the UK government persists in letting a huge range of exotic species to be imported into the UK. There is a ‘temporary' ban on birds, due to the threat of bird flu, but most of the rest of the animal, and plant, kingdom is fair game. Wildlife Extra doesn't understand why the government allows these imports to continue. The risk of imported disease and adding to the invasive species problem is unnecessary, but the damage done to the species and the habitats that they are taken from is much worse.

Hippo pool at Escobar's ranch. Photo credit Carlos Andres.

Hippo pool at Escobar's ranch. Photo credit Carlos Andres.

Ban all wildlife imports
Tony Blair, when speaking about the ban on importing wild birds, stated that bird flu was a factor, but that "the catching and transportation of birds also causes unacceptable levels of suffering to birds and can have a damaging impact on their wild populations."

Wildlife Extra urges the government to ban the import of all wild animals, including fishes, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals, for the same reasons Mr Blair stated about the catching and transportation of wild birds. There can be no justification on the grounds that it is good for the local economies. How does that stand with elephant & rhino poaching, or whaling?

Who benefits from the import trade? 80% mortality
Mostly middle-men in countries where the wildlife is caught, and a few importers and pet merchants in the UK. Certainly not the creatures themselves, nor their local habitat which is often denuded in the search and collection of the species. Dynamite fishing, cutting down trees to get at the inhabitants, digging out subterranean species and trapping are all highly destructive and indiscriminate methods of collection. And even for those animals that survive the collection process, it is estimated that 80% die en-route to their market. Ban the import of all wild animals for the pet trade now, and there will be huge benefits for conservation, not to mention knocking a few million quid off the government's balance of trade deficit at a stroke.

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