Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian cocaine kingpin often credited with popularizing cocaine by flooding the markets with his white powder, can add “hippo colonizer” to his accomplishments. At its peak, his cartel was smuggling up to 80 tons of cocaine a month into the United States and controlled 80% of the global market — with that power, came money, which he used to buy a bloat of hippos. He introduced hippos to the Amazon rain forest, creating the first colony of the massive animals outside of Africa.
Escobar, rolling in more money than he could spend, once famously offered to pay off his nation’s entire national debt. He bought a professional soccer team, built schools and hospitals and financed an armed siege of the Supreme Court just to burn a few documents. He also created a private zoo on a 7.7 square mile estate he owned at the edge of the Colombian Amazon.
When Pablo was killed in 1993, the government was able to give most of the animals to public zoos around the world—but the four hippos Pablo had flown in were too difficult to relocate. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Though vegetarian they are extremely territorial, violently aggressive, can weigh over 6,000 pounds and run faster than most humans (19 mph). These are not easy animals to move.
Pablo’s estate fell into disrepair and once the electric fences lost their juice, the hippos broke out. They now live in lakes and rivers up to 65 miles away from the compound and are estimated to number over 40. Hippos have no natural predators in the Amazon and they seem to be adapting quite well to their new environment.