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Colombia began sterilizing its hippopotamuses this month, the animals descended from the specimens brought into the country by drug lord Pablo Escobar, the Associated Press reported.
The government announced a plan to sterilize 40 hippos a year, starting last week with two males and one female, to address a population currently estimated at 169 but is continuing to grow.
In the 1980s the mammals, native to Africa, were illegally brought into Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles, his private zoo. After the so-called “king of cocaine” was killed in 1993, his estate and hippos became a tourist attraction, as the animals were left to roam in nearby rivers. An attempt to remove them had failed because of their large size, NBC News explained.
Hippopotamuses rank amongst the highest species in the food chain of the Colombian ecosystem, so their reproduction is not naturally tamed. Their number in Colombia could grow to 1,000 by 2035 if nothing is done to control the population.
Last year, the Colombian government declared them as an invasive species. An early proposal to deal with the problem was to hunt the mammals, but it faced the opposition of animal rights activists.
The alternative currently being carried out entails a hectic and dangerous process, the AP explained. Hippos are aggressive and hard to capture. Recent heavy rains have provided them with more food, which makes baiting even more difficult. Observers also noted that hippos can react negatively to surgical operations, which can in some cases lead to death.
The sterilization will also mark a significant cost for the state: Sterilizing one animal costs around $10,000. However, exporting the hippos would be far more expensive, NBC News reported.