Pablo Escobar’s hippos are on their way to “El Chapo’s” homeland in a mission more daring than either man’s drug smuggling.
Ten of the animals are to be flown from Antioquia, Colombia, where the drug lord established a herd on his ranch, to another cocaine stronghold — in Sinaloa, the Mexican province which was home to cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and his sons.
The hippos’ new home will be Jesús María, a town nestled in the mountains of northwestern Mexico where Ovidio “El Ratón” Guzman, was captured in January after a fierce firefight that resulted in 29 dead and more than 30 injured.
The younger Guzman’s nickname means “The Mouse,” or “the Hangover.”
The Ostok Sanctuary is on the outskirts of Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa — long a stronghold of the Mexican drug cartel once run by El Chapo — who is currently serving a life sentence for murder and drug trafficking at the federal supermax prison in Colorado after his conviction in Brooklyn.
The hippos’ move is a $500,000 operation that is being financed by Mexican conservationist Ernesto Zazueta, according to a report.
The hippos are a small fraction of the dozens in Antioquia, in northwestern Colombia, where Escobar maintained a zoo on his Hacienda Nápoles ranch, at the height of his power running the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s.
The 7,000-acre spread, 100 miles outside Medellín, was said to cost $63 million, and came complete with an airstrip, a bullring and a replica of Jurassic Park with half a dozen concrete dinosaurs.
Escobar landscaped the property with 12 artificial lakes, one of which was home to the imported hippos when the drug kingpin was alive.
He also used the ranch as a meeting place for million dollar cocaine deals and parties with teenage girls.
Escobar got two of his hippos from the San Diego Zoo in the early 1980s and another two from fellow drug traffickers, the Ochoa brothers.
Admission to Hacienda Nápoles was free to local residents, who came in droves, amazed by the sight of the animals.
But following Escobar’s death, the hippos proved too cumbersome and costly to move — about $40,000 each to transport — at a time when almost half the population of Colombia was reportedly living below the poverty line, so they were left at the ranch.
The other exotic animals were captured or died.
Thirty years later, the hippos have multiplied and now number more than 130.
The population is the only wild one outside hippos’ native Africa.
Colombian authorities fear their population could increase to 400 over the next eight years.
They have no natural predators, and the wandering hippos have disrupted the local ecosystem and neighboring farms.
In 2020 a local veterinarian spearheaded an ambitious campaign to sterilize some of the hippos, but the delicate surgery on mammals that can weigh up to three tons was costly and slow, and did not result in the herd shrinking.
Instead it more than doubled from 60 in 2021.
Last month, after one of the descendants of Escobar’s hippos was run over on a dark stretch of the Bogota-Medellin highway, Antioquia governor Anibel Gaviria demanded urgent action.
His administration has set up a plan that uses bait to lure the mammals into pens, where they will be confined in special crates and flown as far away as India.
In addition to the 10 that are heading to Mexico, 60 more will head to the Greens Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat.
“We’re going to bring the youngest we find, to reduce the birth rate in Colombia, which is very high,” Zazueta told Spain’s El Pais last week, adding that the goal of the conservationists at Ostok is to return the hippos to their natural habitat in Africa.
Zazueta, an entrepreneur based in Sinaloa, told the newspaper that he has already returned other animals that he has rescued from circuses and private zoos to their natural environments.
At the Ostok Sanctuary, the hippos will be housed alongside Big Boy, a 39-year-old African elephant who was rescued from a Mexican circus in 2021.
The 39-year-old male African elephant arrived at the Ostok Animal Protection & Sanctuary in 2021 and has now fallen in love with Bireki, a 31-year-old female who arrived at the retreat last summer.
They are not the first drug-lord connected exotic animals in Sinaloa.
In April, prosecutors accused El Chapo’s sons, known collectively as “Los Chapitos,” of feeding their enemies, dead or alive, to tigers they kept at a ranch in Navolato, Sinaloa.
This article was originally posted here