Latin America & Caribbean

Drought drives hungry hippos into Colombian town

Three hippopotamus look out from a pond at Hacienda Napoles near Puerto Triunfo, Colombia. July 2006 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Back in the 1980s Pablo Escobar imported elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras and hippos from Africa to graze and wallow at his many man-made lakes.

Biologists in Colombia say a drought has forced two hippopotamuses into a town in search of food.

The animals are descendants of a group imported in the 1980s by the notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar for his private zoo near the town of Puerto Triunfo in Antioquia province.

They've been seen grazing in fields with cattle and wandering through the town near the city of Medellin.

Local children have been warned to keep away from the animals.

The biologists say they are waiting for specialist dart guns to sedate the hippos so they can move them.

Over the years the population of hippos at the Escobar ranch, Hacienda Napoles, has increased and some have escaped.

Escobar smuggled in elephants, giraffes and other exotic animals for his zoo. Among them were four hippos - three females and one male.

When the ranch was confiscated in the early 1990s, most of the animals were dispersed to zoos around the country but the hippos stayed in their lakes and have multiplied to more than 60.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In its heyday, there were around 1,900 other wild animals on the Escobar ranch, Hacienda Napoles

Correspondents say they have thrived in the tropical Colombian climate, its waterways and rich vegetation.

There have been sightings of them far from the Escobar estate, which has fallen into disrepair since the drugs lord was killed in a shootout in 1993.

There have been years of debate about what to do with the hippos and discussions about whether they should be culled.

But many Colombians like them and there have even been cases of calves being taken home as pets.

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