Large wild hippos once owned by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar have become an invasive species whose waste is wreaking havoc on Colombia’s aquatic ecosystem.
According to researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia, who conducted the study, Escobar’s four hippos have since multiplied to 80 hippos, C/Net reported. Hippos can grow to 3,000 pounds each.
The researchers determined that the large amounts of waste these creatures are excreting into the lakes they inhabit are changing the water’s chemistry and oxygen levels, according to the news outlet.
A veterinarian prepares a hippopotamus, known as “Orion,” for dental treatment at the Zoo Santa Fe in Medellin January 27, 2010. The hippo was born in the private Hacienda Napoles ranch which belonged to Pablo Escobar. (REUTERS/Albeiro Lopera)
The study found that the hippo waste fertilizes harmful algae and bacteria, causing problematic algae blooms similar to red tides, which cause illness in humans and animals, C/Net reported.
Escobar’s sprawling drug lair contained an exotic zoo for his children’s enjoyment, according to reports.
Columbian police killed Escobar in 1993 and afterward, the government found homes for all the zoo’s exotic inhabitants — except the hippos.
The authors of the study published in Ecology said hippos are difficult to catch and dangerous to confront.
They warned that the hippo population is likely to grow, further changing the aquatic ecosystem, C/Net reported.
“If you plot out their population growth, we show that it tends to go exponentially skyward,” said UC San Diego’s Jonathan Shurin, a biological sciences professor and the study’s lead author. “In the next couple of decades there could be thousands of them. This study suggests that there is some urgency to deciding what to do about them. The question is: What should that be?”