Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Cocaine Hippos

Idea for a story: A drug kingpin, let's say in South America, gets the yearning to import exotic animals onto his vast estate. He does this purely to satisfy his own particular whims, not unlike what William Randolph Hearst did when he imported animals foreign to the United States to California to create a large private zoo at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Hearst had animals there such as African and Asian antelopes, camels, giraffes, kangaroos, leopards, chimpanzees, and tigers. He also had zebras, and for many years, apparently, Hearst's guests in San Simeon would stroll through the zoo and gawk at the zebras and all the other animals. Hearst's financial difficulties led to the zoo being dismantled in 1937, and most of the animals were sold to other people or donated to public zoos. The zebras remained on the Hearst land, however, and to this day they are there, wandering over the 80,000 acres of grassland below the castle. I spotted them in the distance myself while driving down the coast on US Highway 1 a few years ago, an odd site in that landscape even though I had read about them and was hoping, if not expecting, to see them.

Well, for this story idea, the drug kingpin brings over to his South American country four hippopotamuses from Africa, and they enjoy life on his estate. But when he dies some years after importing them, nobody knows what to do about them. For one thing, they are too large to just gather up and bring somewhere else, like to a zoo. No one provides the means to transfer them anywhere else, and to their credit, people consider it inhumane to kill them. So they live on, adapting, and a few decades later the original population of four has expanded to about 170. They have expanded as well in the territory they cover, finding wild rivers, feeding, living normal hippo lives. The country realizes that the hippos have become a dangerously invasive species in the area, with no predators of any kind to deal with and whose feeding habits and overall lifestyle are causing real problems for native animals and for the local habitat in general. The dead drug kingpin's whim has fomented something of an environmental crisis in the country. Nobody could have foreseen this, how the hippos, in effect, are part of the chain of collateral damage stemming from his long defunct drug business. And because the main drug he dealt in was cocaine, the hippos have become known as the cocaine hippos. They are the cocaine hippos of that country, and the fear is that if they are left untended, their population can reach thousands in the decades to come, a potential disaster.

Sounds a little absurd, but it's all true. Somehow I had no idea any of this was going on until I came across it in the news the other day. The country with the problem is Columbia and the drug kingpin who brought the hippos over from Africa years ago to live on his estate was Pablo Escobar. Of all the kinds of stories you could come across even tangentially related to crime and criminal activity, this is not one you'd anticipate. Probably the officials in Columbia didn't either, and they have in fact rejected the idea of just killing all the invasive hippos. Instead, they have begun a program to sterilize many of the hippos to prevent a population boom, but as anyone can imagine, sterilizing a hippo is no easy task. First, you have to shoot enough darts into a hippo's thick skin to knock it out, then you have get the hippo in the right position for the procedure, then do the procedure. The whole thing takes a team of people who know exactly what they're doing, and they have to do it quickly, before the hippo wakes up.

A somewhat bizarre story, and you probably could do something with this as fiction in these times of concern about the environment. Who knows? I just hope the Columbian hippo sterilization project goes well.

There's a good bit about this online, but here's a link to one story on it that I came across.. It goes into detail about what's going on right now with the hippos: 

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