Environmental authorities successfully developed the first immunocastration pilot for hippos that live in the Colombian region of Magdalena Medio, descendants of those brought there by Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, with the aim of controlling the growth of this species in the country.
The pilot was made with a donation of 70 doses of the drug GonaCon by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Aphis), of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Black and Nare River Basins (Cornare), the region’s environmental authority.
"It is a contraceptive that is effective in males and females and was initially implemented in the population that is adjacent to the Hacienda Napoles Theme Park (the place where Escobar’s hippos escaped)."explained Gina Paola Serna, Cornare’s veterinary doctor, quoted in a statement from the US Embassy in Bogotá.
Escobar, the powerful head of the Medellín cartel, imported four hippos, three females and a male, from a zoo in the United States in 1981 to form part of the exotic animal collection at his Hacienda Napoles, a 3,000-hectare farm near the Magdalena and today dedicated to tourism.
After the death of the drug trafficker in a police operation in Medellín in 1993, the animals mostly ended up in Colombian zoos, but, due to the difficulty of moving them and the high cost of maintenance, there were hippos that stayed where Escobar had left them. .
Their number was increasing and so was their habitat, as some escaped from the hacienda and settled at their ease in the Magdalena, where the sightings and encounters with the locals began, who only knew these animals from natural science books or documentaries.
With the donation, the product was applied to 24 hippos, in addition to the 11 that had already been traditionally sterilized before.
During the operation, the professionals were in the municipality of Puerto Triunfo, in the department of Antioquia (northwest), to start this project that aims to become a world benchmark for the control of invasive populations of hippos on the planet, a unique case in the planet.
When compared to surgical sterilization, which can cost between 25 and 30 million pesos (between 6,600 and 8,000 dollars), Gonacon’s option is cheaper.
"The United States is always ready to help countries control invasive plants and animals. So when Cornare called us, we had the experts and the product that we thought could help."said Jeromy McKin, USDA APHIS Agriculture Attaché at the US Embassy in Colombia.
The coordinator of the Cornare Forest and Biodiversity Group, David Echeverri, explained that "It is the first time that we are implementing this procedure, we are going to follow up and monitor it to know how successful it can be".
"We need to safeguard the ecosystems of Magdalena Medio, protect our native species and control the hippo population"Echeverri added.
According to the information, at this time there are 80 hippos identified that are divided into three population groups located in the Magdalena Medio Region.