Fri, Jul 17, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Colombia to end hunt for Pablo Escobar’s hippos

DRUG BARON’S LEGACY A local beer company has offered to pay for animal protection experts to help relocate the surviving wild hippo and her calf


Colombia has called off the hunt to kill a drug lord’s escaped hippo and will instead try to relocate the beast after its mate was shot dead by order of the government, sparking outrage from animal rights groups.

The animals were imported from Africa by late cocaine king Pablo Escobar and put in his zoo. They escaped in 2006 to live in the wild near the Magdalena River in northern Colombia, causing concerns about local public safety.

Colombia was shocked on Friday when photographs were published of the dead hippo, named “Pepe,” and by news that the hunt was still on for his mate, “Matilda,” who gave birth to a calf in the wild.

Bogota-based beer company Bavaria offered to bring in animal protection experts from South Africa and Tanzania to find the best way to care for the surviving hippo and her calf.

“We have accepted Bavaria’s offer. The hunt is off,” a spokeswoman for the Environment Ministry said on Wednesday. “The idea is to relocate the animals.”

Scores of protesters picketed ministry offices in Bogota on Tuesday, objecting to what they called the “death sentence” handed down against the hippos.

Pepe was killed by a .375 caliber round through his heart. It was a fate not unlike that of Escobar, who controlled most of the world’s cocaine supply before being gunned down by police on a Medellin rooftop in 1993. In the 1980s he flew in hundreds of exotic animals, including kangaroos, elephants, rhinos and nine hippos.

The African zoologists will also study what to do with the 24 hippos still living at the site of Escobar’s zoo, called Hacienda Napoles in Antioquia Province.

Most of the other animals imported by Escobar were given to public zoos after his death.

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