Manuel Rueda

Biologists in Colombia are trying to capture four hungry hippos that have wandered off the grounds of Pablo Escobar’s former ranch.

The African animals went missing in September and have since been spotted several times in Doradal, a small town close to the former narco kingpin's ranch. One of the hippos was even caught on camera grazing next to a local elementary school (although not on children).

Hippos are territorial animals that have been known to attack humans when they feel threatened. Also, hippos aren't native to Colombia—they were originally brought to Colombia by Escobar's private zoo in the 80s.


So that's two good reasons to not have hippos loitering outside of schoolyards.

Colombian biologists therefore are playing the role of African safari guides by trying to track the hippos with tranquilizer guns to relocate them to a safe location near the drug dealer’s former ranch, which today is a theme park surrounded by farms and swampland.


The Hacienda Napoles theme park, located on Escobar's old estate

Oddly enough, it's not Colombia's first hippo hunt. Another animal escaped in 2009 and was tracked down and killed by the army, sparking protests from environmental groups. This time, however, officials hope to take the animals alive—something they're not equipped to do. As a result, the government had to hire hippo hunting specialists and rent a large tranquilizer rifle. Local campesinos have also been recruited to help locate the animals, which roam freely among the farms, lakes and swamps in the area.


“We are trying to optimize resources,” David Echeverry, the biologist leading the Hippo expedition, told the local press. “Just renting the rifle, paying staff and transport, will cost us around $8,000.”

A sign tells locals to stay away from a hippo infested lake


The wandering hippos are the offspring of four original hippos smuggled into Colombia by Pablo Escobar, who in the early '80s built a private zoo that included giraffes, ostriches and a host of other exotic species.

Most of the animals were transferred to proper zoos when the narco boss' ranch was confiscated by Colombia’s anti-narcotics police. But the hippos were left to their own devices, and quickly thrived in the hot and humid Colombian countryside, where they have no natural predators (not including the army).


Nowadays there are at least 30 hippos living on Escobar’s former ranch and the surrounding areas, making Colombia the country with the largest wild hippo population outside of Africa.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.