To the poor and destitute of Medellín, Colombia, Pablo Escobar was a modern day Robin Hood. The government saw Escobar as a dangerous criminal, the head of the Medellín Cartel, one of Colombia’s major exporters of cocaine, and rightly blamed him for hundreds of bombings, assassinations, and murders. But to those he favored, Escobar was a generous philanthropist. From his private estate of Hacienda Nápoles, Escobar funded hospitals, football teams, and housing projects.
Now, after his death in 1993 by government hands, his estate of Hacienda Nápoles lies in ruins. The airstrip, useless. The floors, dug up. The house, reclaimed by the jungle. The only things that has really survived have been a few residents of Escobar’s zoo. A handful of zebras (although they haven’t been seen for a few years), an ostrich, a goat. The hippos are doing well though. Once their electric fences lost power the four remaining hippopotami made a break for other nearby streams and lakes and appear to be living quite happily.
And not everybody is happy about this.
The hippos, whose numbers have swollen to between fifteen and thirty five, are notoriously ornery animals. Hippos can weigh in at more than three tons, are extremely territorial, and kill more people every year than any other African animal. Cracked.com wrote an article that said that Steve Irwin, the late great crocodile hunter, considered a five minute sequence with wild hippos to be the most dangerous stunt he ever attempted.
So while some people in Medellín consider these animals to be the last great legacy of Pablo Escobar, more and more are beginning to see them as a legitimate threat, especially now that some have left the compound altogether. Hippos are being found as far as one-hundred kilometers away, raiding crops, destroying fences, and taking up residence in local waterways. The local government is looking for ways to control them and while zoos and animal activist groups have expressed interest in taking the animals, no commitment has been made. At least one errant hippo needed to be put down by hunters after it strayed too close to human communities and it looks like without outside help sanctioned hunting will have to be used to keep their numbers reasonable.
This action has also been protested, of course. They, like their former owner, seem to inspire different moods of loyalty, fear, and fascination in people, even outside of Columbia.
For a nice video I’d visit National Geographic‘s Youtube channel.