What does an infamous drug baron have to do with a hippo invasion in the Colombian countryside? Quite a bit actually. We've posted before about the hippo-sized problem Pablo Escobar unwittingly created when he imported exotic animals to assemble a personal zoo, but if you're unfamiliar with the details of this particular Escobarian legacy, you'll need a bit of a recap.

Escobar's menagerie, based on the grounds of his luxurious estate Hacienda Napoles, once housed all manner of wild creatures: rhino, giraffes, ostriches, antelope, exotic birds ... and hippos (reports vary as to how many were originally brought in, but it's safe to assume there was at least one opposite-sex pair). After Escobar's death in a gunfight with police in 1993, the entire estate was confiscated by the Colombian government and some of the animals died, while others were relocated to zoos around the country.

Except the hippos. They stayed behind, relishing the tropical Colombian climate and breeding with astounding zeal – earlier this year, a BBC article estimated their numbers at between 50 and 60. 

“The hippos stayed behind, relishing the tropical Colombian climate and breeding with astounding zeal.”

What to do with the supersized invaders has become a growing concern for local authorities, particularly after some of the hippos began moving beyond the estate (now a popular theme park) into surrounding wetlands, sometimes raiding local ranches, spooking fishermen and even crushing the occasional cow – all the while coming into ever-closer contact with the area's human inhabitants.

Efforts to find a workable solution to the hippo problem have also been snarled by public sentiment – when a hippo escapee dubbed Pepe was shot by authorities in 2009 for posing a danger to the public, the move sparked an unexpected backlash. 

Escobar Hippo Sterilization _2014_12_10
Each surgery lasted around three hours and the hippos are said to have recovered well. Image: Cornare

Wildlife officials are now trying more humane tactics for cutting the hippo population. Last month, veterinary experts from Colombia's CES University set up a makeshift operating theatre on the property of a local farmer. Their mission? Hippo sterilisation. After luring two escaped hippos found roaming the nearby area with carrots, the vets darted the animals and successfully sterilised them (you can watch the process here, but you'll want to skip to 1:20 and find a Spanish translator).

According to regional environmental authority Cornare, the complex and risky surgeries – everything about operating on animals this size is tricky – lasted around three hours each and the two patients (nicknamed Joaco and Matildo) recovered well. The duo are the first test subjects in an ongoing management plan to sterilise all the semi-wild hippos that have escaped from Hacienda Napoles. Getting to that goal will be difficult ... and expensive. But at least the funding is coming from a fitting source: the hippo headache created by Escobar is being dealt with thanks to money seized from drug traffickers.

Top header image: Mike Dooley, Flickr