You might have heard the phrase “cocaine hippos” recently. Do you need to be worried? Are the hippos OK?
The hippos are fine: In fact, their numbers have exploded in Colombia thanks to aggressive breeding over the last 30 years. But they're now posing a threat to the ecology of their adopted home, and scientists are warning they must be culled before they destroy river basins—and more.
And this is all because of drug lord Pablo Escobar.
What are cocaine hippos?
Despite recent clicky headlines, they are not hippos that are on cocaine. They were given the name because that's what Escobar was famous for trafficking. When he was killed in 1993, several animals living on his Hacienda Nápoles estate, including lions and elephants, were moved elsewhere or euthanized. But four hippos illegally imported from Africa were apparently overlooked, and now scientists say there are roughly 80 to 100 hippos living around the Magdalena River basin.
Last year, a report from a group of conservation biologists claimed that the invasive hippos might actually be complementary to the ecosystem, at least in terms of sharing some traits with extinct herbivore species, like giant llamas. But the breeding, coupled with reports of aggression toward humans, caused concern, and hippo waste is negatively affecting native species in rivers and waterways—as well as humans.
There have been sterilization efforts, though they are time-consuming. Biologist Enrique Zerda Ordóñez told CNN that culling them would be the "easy option," but hippos are also classified as a vulnerable species. Biologist Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez told the Telegraph: "Nobody likes the idea of shooting a hippo, but we have to accept that no other strategy is going to work."
The cocaine hippo memes
While the plight of the hippos is serious, there are memes of course.
A lot of the memes reference other chaotic animals and insects, like murder hornets, who have been a little too quiet lately.
Online, sentiment seemed to be pro-cocaine hippos.
Welcome to the era of at least half a dozen bands called Cocaine Hippos.
Oh, you think this would make a good movie? Netflix is way ahead of you: Last year it announced a movie based on the cocaine hippos, starring comedian Jermaine Fowler.
Next up for Netflix: A movie about the first preserved dinosaur butthole?
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