PUERTO TRIUNFO, Colombia (AP) — Álvaro Molina has had his run-ins with the burly bunch of neighbors with disreputable contacts who confirmed up a couple of decade in the past alongside the river in entrance of his home in Colombia’s Antioquia province. But he is discovered to stay with them and says he’s fearful a couple of authorities plan he fears may hurt them.
People round Puerto Triunfo have grown accustomed to the herd of hippopotamuses descended from a couple of that have been imported illegally from Africa within the Eighties by flamboyant drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose former ranch is close by.
Molina, 57, says he helps the hippos although he is without doubt one of the few Colombians to have been attacked by one. He was out fishing in the future when he felt a motion beneath his canoe that spilled him into the water.
“The female attacked me once — the first pair that arrived — because she had recently given birth,” he stated.
Within weeks, Colombia’s authorities plans to signal a doc declaring the hippos an unique invasive species, in accordance to Environment Minister Carlos Eduardo Correa. This means developing with a plan for the way to management their inhabitants, which has reached 130 and is projected hit 400 in eight years if nothing is completed as they flourish in Colombia’s rivers.
Correa stated many methods are being mentioned however no selections have been made. Local communities might be consulted about any plan to management the hippos’ inhabitants, he added.
“They speak of castration, sterilization, taking the lifetime of some hippopotamuses,” he said. “What is important is the scientific and technical rigor with which the decisions are made.”
Most people interviewed in Puerto Triunfo, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) of the capital, Bogota, say they can get along with the hippos and many oppose even sterilization — let alone killing some.
“They make laws from a distance. We live with the hippopotamuses here and we have never thought of killing them,” stated Isabel Romero Jerez, an area conservationist. “The hippopotamuses aren’t African now; they are Colombians.”
Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles — and the hippos — have become a sort of local tourist attraction in the years since the kingpin was killed by police in 1993. When his ranch was abandoned the hippos survived and reproduced in local rivers and favorable climatic conditions. They began showing up around Puerto Triunfo a decade ago.
Scientists warn the hippos do not have a natural predator in Colombia and are a potential problem for biodiversity since their feces change the composition of the rivers and could impact the habitat of manatees and capybaras.
An analysis by the Alexander Von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute said that climate change and “an increase in equatorial conditions, the ideal climate for the species” could increase the hippopotamus’ dispersion across Colombia, potentially “overlapping with the geographic and ecological niches of native species, increasing the risk of possible competition for resources.”
Hippopotamuses can also cause damage to crops because they are mainly herbivores and seek food in large quantities at night.
While hippos are considered one of the most dangerous animals for humans in Africa, there have been only a few injuries recorded so far in these parts.
“I don’t consider them a threat, but there are difficulties with them. In the municipality, we have had reports of three attacks on the civilian population,” said Carmen Montaño, an official with Puerto Triunfo’s Municipal Agricultural Technical Assistance Unit.
Locals say the hippos sometimes come out of the water and walk through the streets of the town. When that happens, traffic stops and people keep out of their way.
“The human animal is the one that invades their territory, that is why they feel threatened and attack,” stated Romero Jerez. “Human beings ought to be prudent, respectful and preserve their distance.”
Scientists warn that hippos are territorial and weigh up to three tons.
Daniel Cadena, a biologist and dean of sciences on the Universidad de Los Andes, stated they’re aggressive animals and never as mild as individuals think about.
”There are estimates in Africa that hippos kill extra individuals every year than lions, hyenas and crocodiles mixed,” he stated.
When the doc declaring them an invasive species in Colombia is signed, hippopotamuses will be a part of species such as the enormous African snail, coqui frog, black tilapia and lionfish. The declaration will permit the federal government to allocate assets to management the hippo inhabitants, one of many important obstacles.
There is at the moment an experimental program of immuno-castration with a drug donated by the United States. Surgically sterilizing them requires sedating them, transporting them to a protected place and chopping by means of their thick pores and skin.
“Hippopotamuses do not have what is called obvious sexual dimorphism, it is difficult to know if an animal is male … the genitals are internal,” Cadena stated.
Any inhabitants management course of guarantees to be expensive and sophisticated as a result of it requires discovering the hippos scattered alongside the mighty Magdalena River.
Suárez reported from Bogota.