In the last days, Several groups of hippos were seen “like Pedro at home” in the central area of the Doradal district. —in Puerto Triunfo (Antioquia, Colombia)—despite the threat it may represent for the residents.
Loitering between homes, streets and vehicles, and crossing the busy Medellín – Bogotá highway, the animals were captured in videos that were made known on social networks.
Mammals, which are considered an invasive species and which They were introduced to the country by the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, they became part of the landscape and culture of a region whose ecosystem has been affected by their presence.
According to the accounts of the Ministry of the Environment, in Colombia there are currently 169 hippos that live between the Magdalena River valley and the Momposina depression. Only in the Hacienda Nápoles sector — where 4 individuals arrived from Africa in the mid-1980s — there are 114 mammals. 37 percent of the total are hatchlings and juveniles that facilitate their exponential reproduction.
A study carried out by researchers from the Javeriana University and the Alexander von Humbolt Institute, with data from Cornare, revealed at the end of 2020 that The hippopotamus population could reach 1,418 individuals by 2034 if control actions are not taken..
Added to this is the danger they represent to the life and integrity of the inhabitants of Magdalena Medio. “It is an animal with unpredictable, wild behavior. When he shows himself like this (walking around calmly) it is as if he does nothing, but if one day he kills a person, what? That is why we call for urgent measures to be taken to address what is a problem,” said David Echeverry, Cornare expert biologist.
In this sense, One of the alternatives that was put on the table in recent months was the translocation of at least 70 hippos to sanctuaries and animal reserves in Mexico and India..
The announcement — which took public opinion by surprise despite the fact that work has been done on it for almost two years — was made last March by Governor Aníbal Gaviria during a session of the departmental Assembly.
Since then, officials from the Animal Protection and Welfare management of the Government and Cornare work hand in hand with the Ostok Animal Sanctuary of Mexico to advance the necessary procedures to carry out the complex procedure.
Ernesto Zazueta, president of the Ostok Council, visited Medellín in recent days and cleared up some doubts that still persist about the translocation of hippos to North America and Asia. “”We have a group of veterinarians, specialists and many years doing these tasks. For us it is not something impossible. We have moved elephants, giraffes and hundreds of animals, for us it is an everyday thing to do this. Maybe there is a lack of knowledge on the part of the authorities in that regard,” said the Mexican.
The process would cost about 3 million dollars and would be financed with money managed by the foundation among its own resources, an NGO in India. and private benefactors who join the initiative.
From the sanctuary they were emphatic in clarifying that The National Government would not have to provide resources for the translocation, which is currently being studied by the Ministry of the Environment. “A very important point is that this will not cost the Government anything. We come to help, to save these animals with our own resources, the foundation in Mexico has support and in India too,” said Zazueta. Last April, Cornare filed with the entity the CITES permit — a document that ensures that the animal trade does not constitute a threat to the survival of the species — to obtain approval in the process.
Without this ‘passport’ you cannot advance in any export activity. At the same time, progress was made in the approval of the health criteria of the Colombian Agricultural Institute and the equivalent entity in Mexico to authorize the transfer.
TIME established that two weeks ago the Ministry of the Environment asked the entities for a more complete list of requirements, with the detailed protocol of the process and each of its phases.
This means that he asked for the step by step of how each of the actions will be carried out to move the hippos to their final destination. This includes the safety of personnel, the crates and their respective resistance studies, the chemical containment of animals and other key aspects.. The Ministry also asked about the experience of Cornare — which has already moved seven hippos to other areas of the country — and the Ostok Sanctuary in this type of translocation activities.
This will be the transfer
During his time in Medellín, Zazueta also cleared up one of the main doubts that the transfer of the hippos has raised: Mammals will not travel sedated nor will they be anesthetized. For the procedure, physical and non-chemical management will be carried out with which the foundation will provide resources and expertise..
“What is going to be done, first, is that an alternate corral will be built to the existing one on the outskirts of the Nápoles farm, in Doradal. There we are going to do priming management,” explained the president of Ostok.
Baiting, detailed biologist Echeverry, is a passive capture method in which food is used so that they themselves enter the corral. “Food is placed where they walk and a path is made for them to follow,” said the expert.
Once the hippos have been fattened, a type of corridor or tunnel will be created through which individuals can voluntarily climb into the wooden crate in which they will be transported. A company from Medellín was in charge of designing, with structural studies, the cage that will have two sizes, according to the characteristics of each individual. Its capacity is three static tons, that is, without movement, and up to 10 tons with the force generated by the animals when they move.
“The transfer is done in cargo planes, they are loaded with machines and cranes, and are monitored by veterinarians. The animals become moisturized many times because they take up water, food, they usually do not eat, they do not ingest food,” Zazueta explained.
According to the foundation’s forecasts, The hippos will be transported to India on two flights with 30 individuals per plane — on a Boeing 747 or similar — and a single trip to Mexico with 10 animals.. The flights will take off from the José María Córdova international airport in Rionegro, in eastern Antioquia and it is stipulated that the total transfer time will take about 6 hours to the Manito country and between 26 and up to 40 to India.
“There (in the sanctuaries) they would not be in complete freedom. They would be in a controlled habitat. It has specialists, it has food, it has restraints, it has everything to be well. What happened here is that they were left adrift, that is not the case there,” said the president of Ostok.
The Ministry’s plan
At the beginning of August, the Minister of the Environment, Susana Muhamad, presented to the Congress of the Republic the two proposals that her portfolio is analyzing to manage this invasive species. Although she did not close the possibility of moving the animals — she even confirmed that there are requests to ‘export’ 85 hippos that are currently being studied —, The official requested that this process be carried out with the highest ethical standards and that it not simply be taking the problem to another country or territory. “”We have to demonstrate with scientific authority how we are going to capture this animal, where we are going to keep it in confinement, for how long, how we anesthetize it, what is the transport, what is the veterinary equipment that ensures survival, where are they put in quarantine when they arrive,” Muhammad questioned.
At the same time, the Ministry will advance in the next six months in the sterilization of 40 hippos in agreement with Cornare, a process that can cost up to 40 million pesos per individual.
In recent years, the corporation has even carried out 12 sterilizations, but one of the operated animals has already died as a result of a traffic accident.
“Our goal is to advance 40 annual surgeries, which would lead us to curb the reproductive capacity of the population, but it does not resolve the ecosystemic environmental impact,” said Muhamad. The official said that mammals “have had the ability to open channels, change the natural hydrological dynamics of rivers and swamps, compact the soil and erode the banks.”
Hence the importance of the Ministry’s actions, which will focus on ecosystem management, population control of the species and the management plan with an ethical component and high protocols.