PABLO ESCOBAR' S ECOLOGICAL TIME BOMB
Author: Somya Agrawal
Though Columbia is one of the megadiverse countries in the world and having the world's 2nd largest biodiversity including the highest number of species by area in the world, the most endemic and exotic species of butterflies, the most orchid species, the most amphibiotic species, and more species of birds than all of Europe and North America combined; the one pricking fact with which it is struggling for more than 30 years is the Pablo Escobar's ecological disruptions left by him at his whim.
Pablo Escobar was the world's richest drug dealer during the 1980s and 90s, dealing especially in the infamous Medellin drug cartel. He also terrorized the whole nation with his involvement in kidnappings, terror bombings, and indiscriminate assassinations. But as it is said, no legacy can be as immemorial as time, therefore his kinship also came to an end after several attempts made by the Columbian government;
When sixteen months after his escape for the last time from La Catedral, Pablo Escobar died in a shootout on 2 December 1993, amid another of his attempts to elude the Search Bloc. A Columbian electronic surveillance team used radio technology to track his cell phone transmissions and found him hiding in Los Olivos. It has never been ascertained who fired the final shot into his ear, nor it is determined whether this shot was made during the gunfight or as part of a possible execution, with wide speculation remaining disputed regarding the subject. But, after three decades of him leaving his legacy Columbia is struggling against the after-effects of what is left by him in his ' Cocaine Kingdom' that is
" The Cocaine hippopotamuses " destroying the fragile tropical ecology of the country.
THE ECOLOGICAL TIME BOMB- HIPPOPOTAMUSES AT RIVER MAGDALENA
Pablo Escobar, who was considered the world’s wealthiest narco trafficker, had many extravagances and luxuries, one of which was collecting exotic wild animals at his luxurious Hacienda Nápoles fortress, 250 km northwest of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. His private zoo was filled with a variety of animals illegally imported/ smuggled into the country, such as kangaroos, elephants, giraffes, and hippos. When he was killed in 1993, his estate and other belongings were distributed within which the animals were also imported to respective zoos out of which a male hippo and three female hippos were not given due to the extra costs incurred in transporting them because they were highly inexpensive. And also, authorities left them carelessly presuming that they would not survive, but instead, they thrived.
According to an expert speaking to BBC, Colombia’s hippo herd is now the biggest outside African herd. The hippos multiplied to 16 (2007), 40 (2014), and are currently estimated to number between 70 and 120 over an area of more than 2,250 sq. km. Within a decade, their population is expected to grow to 200, and thousands in the next few decades. MS Castelblanco and her elites say that the population will reach over 1,400 specimens as early as 2034 without a cull - all of them descended from the original group of a male and three females which also could be an outcome of the factor that there is no natural predator of the hippos giving a gross increase in their population.
The weather also helps as in Africa, the population is controlled by droughts that do not occur in Columbia. Instead, conditions in their South American home seem so ideal for the hippos that studies show they start reproducing at earlier ages, she said.
Though there is a contradictory view that the hippos on one hand are good to the ecological diversity of Columbia yet a more hardening view is weighing on the negative side of their existence. As scientists studying the hippos' environmental impact believe they could affect the local ecosystem in several ways. Native species which already under threat of extinction, like the manatee, to altering the chemical compositions of waterways. The content of cyanobacteria is increasing in river bodies where the hippos inhabit leading to the formation of dense algae depleting the aquatic fauna and could endanger fisheries.
While the opposing view is put forth by Enrique Ordoñez, a biologist at Colombia's National University, said the "cocaine hippos" offered hope to preserve global hippo numbers. They are considered a vulnerable species by NGOs such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) including a point that a sterilization program would be a better way to control their population, he told CNN.
But, from the above-mentioned point, it is far more difficult to ascertain such a procedure which is neither cheap nor simple.
Carlos Valderrama has exemplified this as in 2009, he performed a castration of a male "cocaine hippo" as part of an experiment to study options to control the growing population.
Mr. Valderrama said that all were talking about an animal that can weigh five tones and be very aggressive, and even though the team had sedated the animal, it almost tipped the crane we were using to help with the procedure. It was like being with a dinosaur in a Jurassic Park movie.
The veterinarian said the main lesson we could learn from the experiment was that castration alone was simply not an option - especially considering the $50,000 (£36,000) bills. He reached out on the main point by stating that "Many of these hippos live in the wild, and It is simply not possible to reach out to all of them easily. Meanwhile, they will keep on reproducing.
Being foreign to Columbia, the cocaine hippos are invasively threatening the flora and fauna of the nation and are like a ticking time bomb that will seriously affect the diverse ecosystem of the nation if not controlled.
A study published in the journal Biological Conservation in January 2021, argues that culling the hippos is the only option to deal with this disaster. It also mentions that if the hippos are not killed, their numbers could expand to 1,500 by 2035. Studies also show that to prevent their environmental impact, 30 animals need to be killed or castrated every year to stop their numbers from expanding.
Despite the harsh impacts of those hippos on the marine species, the government is not taking strict actions against them, which could be the effect of the public support granted to the hippos by the locals. The resistance of the locals in shifting the hippos is massive due to which the government has imposed a ban on hunting them. An example was held out in 2009 when Colombian Army soldiers gunned down a feral hippo called Pepe. It led to a massive public outcry which was difficult to depart with.
For many local people, they are a source of income as this place is the tourist’s hotspot because of its interesting history, and killing them would be an irreparable loss.
Though hippos are on the blacklist of the world's deadliest animal yet there has not been a casualty or an attack by the hippos, still, the danger is hanging on our heads.
David Echeverri, a biologist working for the Colombian environmental agency, has admitted that public opinion is hampering efforts. He also told the BBC that a cull had already been discussed but that killing hippos was unlikely to happen soon. It is a topic that polarizes people, which is why we have to keep looking at other solutions.