Cocaine Hippos

The content below is from Season 2, Episode 33 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.


  • Free Guy
    • Every once in a blue moon I like to take myself on a “Me Date.”
      • I used to go on them all the time when I was single.
      • I’ll wear whatever clothes I feel most comfortable in, pop on over to a Fro-Yo place, and catch a movie that is playing in theaters. All by my self.
      • Now that I’ve found my lady Shannon, Me Dates don’t happen as often. I’d rather go places with her. But this past weekend she was invited to a baby shower and I was like “have fun honey, this guy’s got a movie to catch!”
      • And it was rather glorious I might say.
      • I chose to see the new Ryan Reynolds movie: Free Guy.
      • I plopped down in a big reclining movie theater seat with my Hawaiian shirt, white socks and sandals, and a large giant coke zero. The 2 hours that followed were hilarity-filled cinema fun.
    • There were a few jokes that got 0 laughs from the theater I was in, but other than that it was fun. The plot was modern, the references were refreshing, and Reynolds had me cracking up throughout the entire movie. His facial expressions alone were comedy gold. It felt like people had fun making this movie which is always a good quality in a film.
    • One of my biggest worries was that they would dumb down all the video game and Technological concepts so that a larger audience could follow along. But they walked a fine line of being general enough for non-gamers to get it, and detailed enough for gamers to not be bored.
    • I liked Deadpool and Reynolds’ comedic delivery doesn’t get much better than Deadpool. However, it was nice to see him as a less sinister character and without a mask on his face.
    • So that’s what I thought of Free Guy. You should check it out for yourselves… aaaaand….


  • – Cocaine Hippos- got your attention didn’t it? But what’s the title of this episode all about?
    • Am I going to tell you the story of hippo that came across a duffle bag filled with 76 pounds of cocaine that fell from the plane of a drug smuggler?
    • Will I go in to great detail about how that hippo ate said 76 pounds of cocaine, partied all night in the wilderness like a raged out frat boy until its heart eventually exploded?
      • No, that’s not what this episode is about… because that wasn’t a hippo, it was a 175 lbs. black bear. You heard me right. That is the very TRUE story of Pablo Esco-bear.
      • Yep, an actually black bear ate cocaine until it died in November of 1985.
  • Perhaps I will do a podcast episode on that legendary black bear some other time.
    • This is about the private zoo that was created in Columbia in the 1980’s, particularly the hippos and their bizarre story.
    • THIS podcast episode is about the hippos that are still alive and did NOT die from overdosing on hardcore drugs that dropped from the sky.
  • We’ve all heard of the drug kingpin from Columbia who was known as the King of Coke: Pablo Escobar
    • But incase you haven’t heard of him:
      • Pablo Escobar was born in Rionegro, Colombia in 1949. His father was a farmer, and his mother was a schoolteacher.
      • In 1976, a 27-year-old Pablo Escobar married Maria Victoria Henao Vellejo, who was then just 15.
      • Escobar was responsible for killing about 4,000 people, including an estimated 200 judges and 1,000 police, journalists, and government officials. In the 1980s, Escobar’s Medellin cartel was responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine that was sent to the United States.
        • And if you know anything about the 80’s, there was A LOT of cocaine in the US at the time.
        • Some might even argue there was so much coke in the 80’s that it influenced our television, music, fashion trends, and our pop culture as a whole.
      • Escobar is said to have smuggled cocaine into plane tires. Depending on how much product pilots flew, they could earn as much $500,000 per day.
      • While the Escobar family was in hiding, Pablo’s daughter, Manuela, got sick. To keep her warm, Escobar burned about two million dollars.
      • Ol’ Pablo spent around $2,500 a month on rubber bands used to hold his money.
      • At his peak, he had earned 30 Billion dollars.
      • In the late 1980s, Colombian authorities seized some of Escobar’s enormous fleet, including 142 planes, 20 helicopters, 32 yachts, and 141 homes and offices.
      • His business was so big and so scrutinized that in addition to planes, helicopters, cars, trucks, and boats, he even bought two submarines for transporting his cocaine into the United States.
    • Once you learn all that about the man (the guy who had so much wealth and power that he changed the US culture for decades) it isn’t hard to believe that he had his own private zoo.
  • Although their owner was gunned down on a roof top in Medellín Columbia in December of 1993, the hippos have managed to flourish in the Columbian environment.
    • Escobar’s private zoo located on his beautiful ranch in  Hacienda Napoles housed about 200 exotic animals like kangaroos, elephants, ostriches, zebras, camels, and giraffes.
    • The Ranch/Zoo was a luxurious country estate built and owned by Pablo Escobar that has since been transformed into a popular theme park with a waterpark and public zoo. Hacienda Napoles Theme Park is located about four hours east of Medellín and it covers about 7.7 square miles (20 square km) of land.
    • Back in the 1980s, Escobar imported one male and three female hippos to join his menagerie. Upon his death, other species of exotic animals were relocated, but the hippos were left because they were difficult to capture and transport.
      • The local authorities probably hoped the hippos would die out, but that didn’t happen.
      • Much like bears, Hippos are depicted as cute and docile by cartoons and stuffed animal toys. But you should know they are one of the most aggressive species on the planet. Hippos don’t eat meat. They are herbivores, but they are extremely territorial. They are Responsible For An Estimated 3,000 Deaths Per Year.
      • Females can get up to 3,300 pounds and males up to 4,000 pounds. The big bull hippos can be anywhere from 9.5 to 14 feet long and weigh from 5,000 to 8,000 pounds. The heaviest known hippopotamus was approximately 9,900 pounds. They are big, they are tough, and they are mean.
      • In their natural habitat of Africa, Big cats such as Lions and other animals like Hyenas and Crocodiles are the most common predators of the Hippopotamus, particularly of the young or sick individuals.
      • But nothing in south America is willing to take on the hippo.
      • These hippos are taking advantage of an evolutionary opportunity. The weather also helps: in Africa, the population is in part controlled by droughts that do not take place in Colombia. Indeed, conditions in their South American home seem so ideal for the hippos that studies show they start reproducing at earlier ages
      • These factors have lead to the hippos thriving. Estimates range from 80 to 120 hippos now live in Columbia. It is the largest herd of hippos outside of Africa.
  • The descendants of those 4 hippos imported by Pablo Escobar are now spreading through one of the country’s main waterways – the River Magdalena. Last month, a study published in the Biological Conservation journal said culling the animals was the only way to mitigate their environmental impact.
    • Environmental scientist predict that as early as 2034 there could be 1,400 hippos in Columbia.
      • They want to kill or castrate at least 30 hippos a year to stop such a population boom.
    • Scientists studying the hippos’ environmental impact believe they could affect the local ecosystem in a number of ways: from displacing native species already under threat of extinction, like the manatee, to altering the chemical compositions of waterways, which could endanger fisheries.
      • There other studies suggest they might help the environment too. But that is a National Geographic article that kept requiring me to sign up with an email in order to read their research. So sadly we won’t be going that information today lol. I make no money off this podcast and I’m not about to sign up for subscription for it.
      • Fun fact: hippos poop a lot. They are big animals that eat 88 pounds of food a night (which is only 1.5% of their body weight). But that still translates to a lot of hippo poop. That poop creates algea blooms in Columbia’s watershed which messes with the ecosystem. So it is the hippo poop that scientist believe will destroy local fisheries.
  • So if these cocaine hippos pose such a large threat to the local environment why don’t they kill them?
    • Well there is the moral issue. These hippos didn’t ask to be transported to Columbia by the King of Coke. But that is far from the biggest reason why these hippos aren’t dead already.
    • The local community LOVES these hippos. Remember how I said Pablo Escobar’s ranch was turned in to an amusement park/zoo? Well these hippos are a part of that attraction. They bring in a lot of tourist revenue. Plus the locals just adore their hippo neighbors.
Fear, love surround Escobar's hippos thriving in Colombia - The Columbian
  • So the other option, instead of killing them is to castrate them.
    • But that is easier said than done.
    • Castrating your pet dog or cat is very different from castrating a 4,000 pound hippopotamus.
    • The BBC actually interviewed a veterinarian who helped with one of these procedures:
      • In 2009, Carlos Valderrama performed a castration of a male “cocaine hippo” as part of an experiment to study options to control the growing population.
      • “We are talking about an animal that can weigh five tonnes and be very aggressive,” Mr Valderrama said. “Even though we had sedated the animal, it almost tipped the crane we were using to help with the procedure. It was like being with a dinosaur in a Jurassic Park movie.”
      • The veterinarian said the main lesson of the experiment was that castration alone was simply not an option – especially considering the $50,000 (£36,000) bill. Official government statistics show only four animals underwent sterilisation between 2011 and 2019.
      • “Many of these hippos live in the wild. It is simply not possible to reach all of them easily. Meanwhile, they will keep on reproducing,” Mr Valderrama said.
      • From 2011 to 2019 four males were castrated and two females were sterilized, but this “does not seem to have an important impact on reproduction,” 
  • There have been no fatalities in Colombia, but last May local media reported that a farm worker was seriously injured by a hippo in a town near Hacienda Napoles.
    • Still, there was a massive public outcry when Colombian Army soldiers gunned down the hippo Pepe in 2009, after it was deemed a threat to local communities. It was enough to lead authorities to make hippos legally protected, which is an obstacle to any plans to cull them.
  • You know what I think: humans aren’t going to be able to fix this issue.
    • The deed is done. Escobar brought over 4 hippos and now hippos live in south America.
    • Will it be “bad” for the environment? IDK. Depends on what you consider bad.
    • Will this change the environment? NO DOUBT ABOUT IT
    • But these are hippos we are talking about.
    • These things can weigh more than a Ford F-150 pickup truck for Pete’s sake.
Again, heaviest hippo ever weighed was 9,900 pounds

  • In the end these hippos will continue to be a part of this ecosystem. They may even spread farther across the Americas in the centuries to come. That is if we human’s don’t destroy the natural world beyond saving before they can do so.
    • My point is that environmentally speaking we’ve got much larger problems on our hands. Sea levels are rising, global temperatures are getting higher each year, the ice caps are melting, and California is on fire.
    • I say we focus on some of those problems first, then circle back to the pesky cocaine hippo issue later.