He promised his unborn children they’d have a zoo, or better yet, a “reserva natural.” The Escobar home in Medellín would be home to all the flora and fauna that filled the earth. Much like the plants that were modified in his labs to create a rock that makes a dust that can then be snorted, the displaced hippos never asked for this change.
“Cualquier cosa que quiero, la tengo.” Pablo asserts, when asked why the hacienda has to have everything, no matter what. When El Cucaracha discovered that mota wasn’t enough, that coca plants could lead to new heights in the drug export business. It’s never enough, there’s no such thing.
So, yes, importing hippopotamuses illegally to Colombia was the obvious choice. The Escobar Kingdom had to include all the species of the animal kingdom. A “paisa” who started with noble intentions. Intentions that included helping the people of his pueblo and, maybe, one day, becoming a politician to serve the public the way they ought to be served.
But, when that dream was deferred and resulted in humiliation, there was another obvious choice: double down on what gave him power. Importing hippos without permission, creating Hacienda Napoles the way he wanted it—that’s what fed his appetite for power. To “no” he responded: “come mierda.”
And, that’s exactly what the authorities would do: eat shit. There was no other option, everyone was bought out, including the highest officials.
Now, hippos roam across Antioquian lands in complete and utter confusion. A generation ago, they lived their lives in peace. These Sub-Saharan creatures were uprooted, displaced, and relocated to a Colombian zoo. They began as four and are now one hundred. These innocent hippos didn’t know they’d eventually become white rock hippos. No, we refuse to call them “cocaine hippos”—they have no role in the consumption of this drug so why would we relegate them to such an absurdist title?
The first two hippos to arrive at Hacienda Nápoles, in 1988. Photo taken by Edgar El Chino Jiménez.
Perhaps, we should stop to consider whether their presence comforted Escobar. Maybe, he saw himself in them. “Hippos really only attack people that have entered into what they consider their territory.” That was Pablo. Enter his territory, and he retaliated. There would be blood, cold blood. Even more, probably, he felt displaced or, better said, misplaced. Mistreated. Had he gotten that chance to serve his people the “legitimate” way…possibly, things would have been different and he wouldn’t have been hunted to his own demise.
Now loose, they don’t know what to do or where to go. So, one hippo walks on a road, the highway between Bogotá and Medellín, only to become roadkill. Hippo roadkill. How insatiable desires end the life of a harmless herbivore. No, but the kids wanted them. Now, the tourists want them. “Hippos de Colombia” generates intrigue along the Magdalena River, intrigue which is attached to dollar bills. Money, again, talks louder than animal rights.
And, speaking of money, it’ll cost approximately $3.5 million dollars to relocate the hippos to a land where they will not be invasive, a land which is akin to their natural habitat. If not, they will multiply and, in one generation, can grow to 1,000 hippos lost in the unfamiliar Colombian wetlands. Lost.