A group of hippos formerly owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar are set to soon leave South America.
Colombia plans to move about 70 of the so-called cocaine hippos to India and Mexico, according to a tweet Thursday from the governor of Antioquia province, where the mammals are located. Though some researchers have suggested the hippos could be restoring Colombia’s ecosystem, they are still considered an invasive species.
The animals, descendants of four African hippos illegally imported by Escobar in the 1980s, became a tourist attraction after he was killed by police in 1993. However, their population has since grown to more than 130 in the Antioquia area, settling far beyond Escobar’s Hacienda Nápoles ranch.
Environmental authorities estimate this number could climb to 400 in the next eight years, fueling the push to move the hippos to foreign sanctuaries, according to an Associated Press report Friday.
“It is possible to do, we already have experience relocating hippos in zoos nationwide,” David Echeverri López, a spokesperson for the Cornare environmental authority undertaking the effort, told the outlet.
Lina Marcela de los Ríos Morales, director of animal protection and welfare in Antioquia’s environment ministry, told the AP that these relocations will only affect hippos living outside Escobar’s ranch — and not in its controlled environment.
This mission, reportedly brewing for more than a year, marks a big shift from Colombia’s initial plan to sterilize or kill the animals — which spurred a lawsuit that made them the first nonhuman creatures to be legally considered people by a U.S. court.
Hippos are far from sociable, however, and annually kill 500 humans in their native Africa, according to National Geographic. The highly territorial animal can weigh thousands of pounds, with a bite nearly three times stronger than a lion’s.
The hippos outside Escobar’s ranch are also threatening the biodiversity of local rivers with their feces. The booming population has been crowding out other animals like manatees and capybaras, prompting the need for desperate measures.
The plan is to lure the hippos into iron containers to drive them to José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro, 94 miles away. Sixty will be flown to the Greens Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India, while 10 will head for zoos in Mexico.
Though some have reportedly described the animals as “village pets,” others are relieved to see the hippos go. Antioquia local Álvaro Molina, for instance, told AP he was once attacked by a hippo while fishing.