An astonishing and scarcely believable tale that reads as if plucked from the dense magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez has become the content of urban myth and folklore, but, here we are to put the story straight, it’s all true.
The male and female fugitive hippos that escaped from Pablo Escobar’s former ranch Hacienda Napoles in Puerto Triunfo in August 2006 and their offspring born in the Colombian wilds have been hunted down, captured and one killed by Colombian bounty hunters.
Pepe, the 2000 kilo macho alpha was killed in June of 2009 not far from Puerto Berrío along the banks of the Magdalena River while public outrage in Colombia hit unprecedented new levels with record numbers signing on to voice their thoughts on the scandal on newspaper websites.
In order to fully understand this story we need to rewind a little and expose the bare facts. Prior to the notorious Cartel leader’s death on a rooftop in Medellin in 1993, Pablo “el papa de los pobres” Escobar, in a similar vein to many in his field of employment, lavished his dollars on outrageous and opulent spending sprees that were almost always of questionable taste.
One such spending spree resulted in his purchase and creation of the 8.4 sq mile Hacienda Napoles. Here, above the gates he placed the aircraft he used to smuggle cocaine into the US and within the compound he collected various exotic fauna such as giraffes, elephants, kangaroos and of course hippopotamuses.
13 years after his death, some of the animals had starved and died, others were adopted by zoos but the hippos had thrived becoming a family numbering 25, making this collection the largest wild grouping of the species outside of Africa.
By all accounts the fugitive hippos were thriving in the marshy environs of the Magdalena River, an area where the humidity is high and the temperature rarely dips beneath 32 degrees making it an ideal location for these animals. Only several months previous to these events I was covering this section of the Magdalena Medio and hoped to catch a glimpse of the creatures, luck was not on my side that day and it seems that I will no longer have the opportunity to see the incongruity of the hippo clan in central Colombia as plans were afoot to move them elsewhere.
The Government’s environment agency and local authorities pointed to problems of disease and destruction associated with the animals as their reasoning for the cull, a reasoning that did not sit well with a good quantity of locals and numerous Colombians.
Americamestiza on the El Espectador (www.elespectador.com) website said: “Pobre hipopotamo… un falso positivo…. el ejercito de colombia, como siempre.”
And Roberto Sanchez a fisherman from Puerto Berrío made the bold claim of having been within 20 meters of the beasts and not encountering any problems.
Given the mass outpouring of sympathy and growing bodies who demonstrated at the time outside the Governmental Environment Ministry’s offices in Bogota, new plans were hastily assembled. Offers came in from New York and Costa Rica but it was decided that, if finally captured, mother and child, would be moved to the zoo in Cali.
This would hopefully bring to an end another saga resulting from the late Pablo Escobar’s actions, and of course one not without its victim, Pepe another unfortunate victim of the drug kingpin’s excesses.