Plan is to send 60 hippos to Gujarat, India, and another 10 animals will go to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico.
Colombia will transfer 70 hippos once owned by drug lord Pablo Escobar to overseas sanctuaries at a cost of $3.5m.
The cocaine baron brought a small number of the African beasts to Colombia in the late 1980s. But after his death in 1993, the animals were left to roam freely in a hot, marshy area of the Antioquia region where environmental authorities have been helpless to curb their numbers – now at 150.
Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles and the hippos have become a local tourist attraction since Colombian police killed the drug kingpin. When his ranch was abandoned, the hippos survived and reproduced in local rivers and favourable climatic conditions. The hippos are territorial and weigh up to three tonnes.
Scientists warn the hippos do not have a natural predator in Colombia and are a potential problem for biodiversity since their faeces change the composition of the rivers and could affect the habitat of manatees and capybaras.
Last year, Colombia’s government declared the huge animals a toxic invasive species. Authorities tried a sterilisation programme to control the population but it failed.
The plan is to send 60 hippos to the Greens Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Kingdom in Gujarat, India, and another 10 hippos will go to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico such as the Ostok, located in Sinaloa.
“The whole operation should cost around $3.5m,” the Ostok Sanctuary’s owner Ernesto Zazueta told reporters.
He and Governor Anibal Gaviria – of the Colombian region home to the hippos – say they plan to lure the animals with bait into pens before they are put in special crates for the transfer.
The hippo removal is seen as a life-saving measure as the environment ministry eyed an eventual cull of the beasts. Ecuador, the Philippines, and Botswana also expressed willingness to take the hippos.
Escobar was one of the world’s most notorious outlaws, responsible for an unprecedented number of drug-related deaths and a bomb attack in Colombia.
Escobar was killed in a rooftop shoot out with police and soldiers in Medellin on December 2, 1993, one day after his 44th birthday. Five months earlier he appeared on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people for the seventh time.