Wednesday, January 13, 2021

"Efforts to castrate hippos are not as easy as you would think"


That's the sub-headline to an article in the Washington Post that had me laughing out loud.  I'm an old Africa hand, after all.  I know just how deadly dangerous hippopotami can be - I've written about it before.  However, it seems Colombia has not (yet) learned that lesson.

In the 1980s, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar smuggled four hippos onto his private country estate. Now dozens of its wild spawn roam the wetlands north of Bogota, the largest invasive species on the planet.

. . .

How much trouble could they cause? So reasoned Colombian officials charged with dismantling [Pablo] Escobar’s sprawling country estate after his death in 1993. They were reluctant to approach the animals, each highly aggressive and roughly the size and weight of a four-door sedan. While most of the drug lord’s exotic animals were sent to zoos, the hippos — three females and one male — were allowed to roam.

That was the first mistake.

In their natural habitat, hippos spend the long dry season crowded into waterways that have shrunk to puddles. There, they are vulnerable to disease and predation — not to mention one another’s bad tempers.

But tropical Colombia is “hippo paradise,” Echeverri said. Rain is abundant, food is plentiful and there are no carnivores large enough to pose a threat. The animals spend five hours a day grazing on grasses and the rest of their time basking in the cool waters of the Magdalena River and surrounding lakes.

. . .

Yet human-hippo interactions aren’t usually friendly. In 2009, after a trio of escapees from Hacienda Napoles were reported terrorizing local farms, Colombia’s environmental agency sent a team of hunters after the animals with an order to shoot on sight.

But then a photo emerged showing the soldiers posing with the carcass of one of the adults, named Pepe. Animal rights activists denounced the killing; “They could have been captured and kept in a safe place until a permanent refuge was found for them,” Marcela Ramirez, a member of the local Animal Protection Network, told Reuters at the time.

A judge issued a ruling suspending the hunt for Pepe’s mate and offspring, and it became illegal to kill hippos in the country. That’s when Echeverri launched his sterilization campaign.

After their early, exhausting effort to track an animal in the wild, the team decided to try corralling one. They piled carrots and fruit in the center of a wooden pen and waited for a hungry hippo to stroll through.

“But the corral didn’t work,” Echeverri said, speaking in Spanish over Zoom. “When he felt like he was enclosed, he jumped,” crushing the wooden barrier and escaping into the trees.

He added, “I didn’t know they could jump.”

. . .

Echeverri is able to castrate roughly one hippo per year, whereas scientists estimate that the population grows by 10 percent annually.

There's more at the link.

It's a real dilemma for Colombia.  In another twenty to thirty years, the hippos will have taken over the entire riverine infrastructure in the region, and by then it will be far too late to dislodge them.  The only way to do it is to cull them all;  but the knee-jerk ecologists and animal lovers (none of whom understand hippos as Africans do) won't hear of it.  So, nothing is done, and the situation gets worse from day to day.

I must admit, I never thought such a honking great example of African fauna would follow me to the Americas!  I'd as soon it had stayed behind . . .  "I didn't know they could jump", indeed!  Colombians have never seen them jump up and down river banks.  Those two tons of flesh can move mighty fast when they want to - and often when you don't want them to!

Look up "hippo attacks" on YouTube - but only if you have a strong stomach.  The results are often gruesome in the extreme.  I suspect Colombia is in for a lot of that sort of thing, as the hippos there take over their environment.



stencil said...

How do they taste?

Peter said...

@stencil: Delicious! Hippopotamus stroganoff may be the world's finest version of that dish. Also, there's so much meat . . . I've seen an African village of plus-or-minus 100 people devour an entire hippo (about 4,000 pounds, plus-or-minus a thousand) in two to three days, and spend the next day or two in a food coma. Impressive!

greggBC said...

Seems that they need to be hunted for food to feed the poor. The problem would be to handle the carcass for butchering. Or fine a high end restaurant or meat market to serve /sell hippo meat. Hunters will figure out the logistics.

JaimeInTexas said...

A while back I read two books of fiction, about feral hippos in Louisiana's bayous, "River of Teeth" and "Taste of Marrow", by Sarah Gailey. Unfortunately, the author is woke and gets into this he/she/they pronoun crap that makes many passages tedious to read. The fiction itself was interesting.

In Puerto Rico, there is a lagoon where crocodiles were released (circa 1960), and populated the place. What could go wrong? It appears, due to flooding they have moved to San Juan's estuary system.

These articles go back to 2010.

Crocodile census causes alarm in Puerto Rico

Looks like Caimans are a type of crocodile.

Puerto Ricans fight back against caiman onslaught

Marty said...

A pox on do-gooders and animal rights activists. None of them have even basic common sense.

Sherm said...

Just curious. Has any animal birth control effort ever worked anywhere, ever?
I know lots of time and money has been spent in efforts to control X+Y but have yet to read where a program was shutting down, having reached their goal. If I were a cynic I'd think those who pushed for such efforts long ago moved on to some other cause while those implementing them recognize a job for life if they play their cards right.

Jerry said...

The solution is obvious. Animal rights activists have blocked hunting. OK. Now it's their problem or hunting returns. Put up or shut up.

Mikey said...

Seems like hunting is the logical solution. I've read that they are tasty and the the tusk ivory is actually finer grained than elephant. I'm sure we could make cowboy boots out of the hide. Jeff Cooper, in his later writings proposed night hunting them while they were out on land grazing. Getting between a hippo and the river at night was a bit more sport than any guide was willing to take on.

Philip Sells said...

It would seem the solution is clear - shoot lots of them and send the meat to the starving in Venezuela next door! Who knows, maybe the hippos were meant to arrive in force in Colombia at precisely this time for this purpose.

Trumpeter said...

Who knew hippos could jump?

Me, me! I saw the movie. They dance on tippy toes in tutu's as well.

Steve Sky said...

A mental musing thought occurred to me.

If they are so dangerous to capture & handle, how did Pablo Escobar get them there in the first place?

Peter said...

@Steve Sky: Because Pablo Escobar didn't care about casualties.

bobby said...

Just call the guys from Jurassic Park.