Colombia begins sterilizing its invasive hippos: what scientists think


A hippo floats in the lagoon at Hacienda Napoles Park in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia, in 2022.

Wild hippos invest the majority of the day immersed in water and can be hard to record. Credit: Fernando Vergara/AP Photo/Alamy

Colombia has actually started a brand-new project sanitizing its intrusive hippos, revealing indications that it is taking the risk the animals present to the nation’s biodiversity and regional neighborhoods seriously. The strategy is to record, anaesthetize and decontaminate a preliminary 20 hippos by the end of 2023 as part of a three-pronged method the federal government is requiring to lower the quickly broadening population that has actually developed itself along the nation’s Magdalena River.

The other prongs include delivering hippos abroad to zoos and sanctuaries, and– more contentiously– choosing a few of the animals. Colombia’s environment minister, Susana Muhamad, revealed the strategy at an interview on 2 November.

Earlier this year, researchers feared that Muhamad would not take the action needed to suppress the hippo population after she consulted with animal-rights groups, developed a brand-new department of animal defense within the ministry, and the publication of a government-commissioned research study on the hippos was postponed. Some still have issues, they are happy the ministry is taking action.

” There are concerns around how all this will be performed, especially the euthanasia, however it appears that the federal government is typically entering the best instructions,” states Jorge Moreno-Bernal, a biologist at the University of the North in Barranquilla, Colombia.

” We remain in a race versus time in regards to long-term effects to the environment and environment,” Muhamad stated at journalism conference.

Thriving and making it through

Colombia’s hippos– thought about the biggest intrusive animals worldwide– grew in the countryside after getting away from drug-cartel leader Pablo Escobar’s estate. Escobar unlawfully imported 4 hippos ( Hippopotamus amphibius) in the 1980s. Left alone after he passed away in 1993, the male and 3 women replicated quickly thanks to an absence of predators and dry spells, aspects that usually keep hippo populations in check in their native sub-Saharan Africa.

A study commissioned by Colombia’s environment ministry and released in Aprilestimated that there are now 181–215 hippos in the country One design of their population development approximated that, by 2050, they might number more than 1,000 if procedures aren’t required to manage them1

Ecologists have actually been worried that the extremely territorial animals, which can weigh approximately 3 tonnes, are changing the structure of Colombia’s primary river with their excrement, and are outcompeting other types, such as the capybara ( Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), for environment and resources.

Following the April release of the research study, which comprehensive proof of the damage being triggered by the hippos and suggested options, the federal government chose to act, Muhamad stated.

” One of the crucial conclusions is that there is not a single technique to manage the hippos’ population and their ecological effect,” Muhamad informed Nature

Three-point strategy

The primary step is the sanitation project, for which the federal government has actually put aside 808 million pesos (US$ 200,000) this year. Each surgical castration will take a group of 8– consisting of vets, specialists and support personnel– in between 6 and 8 hours. Far, 3 sanitations have actually been finished, according to David Echevveri, head of biodiversity management, safeguarded locations and environment services at Cornare, the local environment authority entrusted with the project. In the coming years, the objective is to increase to sanitizing 40 hippos a year.

Researchers have actually mentioned that this will be a pricey and sluggish endeavour. “Sterilization is just a requirement for the other methods. They need to perform the 3 at the same time,” states Rafael Moreno, an ecologist who took part in the ministry-commissioned hippo research study while at the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute in Bogotá.

Muhamad informed Nature that a more efficient technique would be to export the animals. Throughout journalism conference, she stated that the ministry has actually had a “concrete” deal from a purchaser in India happy to take 60 of the animals, which India’s ecological authorities are considering it. Due to the fact that they believe it might be logistically difficult and pricey,

Researchers who spoke to Nature are sceptical about the exportation strategy. According to Ernesto Zazueta, the owner of the Ostok Sanctuary in northern Mexico who has actually revealed interest in taking a few of the animals, to export 60 hippos to India and another 10 to Mexico would cost an overall of about $3.5 million.

The Colombian federal government will cover the expenses of sanitation, and most likely the expenses of euthanasia, however exportation would be spent for by the sanctuaries or zoos importing the hippos, Muhamad informed

Nature Challenges ahead

Although the scientists


talked to are happy the federal government is continuing with its strategy to manage the hippo population, they are worried that it will rely too greatly on sanitation, due to the fact that less information have actually been used about the other 2, more efficient methods. After sanitation, the animals would preferably be restricted or exported, Moreno states. Returning them to the countryside to stroll would enable them to continue to cause damage on the environment, he states. In the past, sanitation efforts have not worked, due to the fact that the hippos reproduced quicker than they might be captured and run on. Moreno is likewise worried by the ministry’s statement that it will seek advice from person groups about the hippo-euthanising procedure. “It is a technical matter that ought to be taken by knowledgeable specialists,” he states. Ecologists state that culling will be required. That part of the effort will most likely be satisfied by legal obstacles, states Elliot Doornbos, a senior speaker in criminology at Nottingham Trent University, UK. A public protest took place after a picture of a dead hippo was shared online in 2009 and triggered efforts to control the population to be stopped.

Muhamad informed

Nature(*) that the environment ministry is dealing with professionals to prepare an “ethical euthanasia procedure” that will be “sought advice from in various professional committees to guarantee its performance and rigour”.(*)” Depending on the number of we export and the number of we can decontaminate, we will see the number of we will need to choose,” she included.(*)


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