Things That Matter

Pablo Escobar Once Had Four Pet Hippos, Now There’s More Than 80 And They’re Destroying Colombia’s Ecosystem

Pablo Escobar is known for many things, among them being one of the world’s most prolific drug lords. His Medellín cartel basically invented the modern-day drug business model – which continues to plague communities around the world.

However, there’s one part of Escobar’s life that few know about – the drug kingpin also had a menagerie of exotic animals that he kept as pets, including four giant African hippos.

The former drug lord‘s pet hippos have exploded in population and are wreaking havoc on the environment.

Escobar kept a large number of exotic animals – including lions, rare birds, giraffes, and hippos – as pets at his Medellin compound. When he was killed in 1993, most of the animals were moved to zoos, however, the hippos were left to fend for themselves. And apparently they’ve thrived on their own.

It was not possible to move the hippos and the animals soon lived near the Magdalena River. Their number has grown over the years and is now nearly 80. According to a study published in the journal Ecology, the hippos have become an invasive species and are destroying the aquatic ecosystem.

The region’s water supply is under threat thanks to hippo waste.

A team of researchers from the University of California at San Diego and the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia investigated the water quality of the lakes where hippos live, and compared them to lakes where they are not.

According to the study, hippos separate large amounts of waste into the lakes, changing the chemistry and oxygen levels of the water. This is because the excreted waste fertilizes harmful algae and bacteria.

According to Jonathan Shurin, lead author of the study, the hippos have a major impact on the ecosystem in their native Africa. He said a similar impact was seen when they were imported into an entirely new continent.

The Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was known for his love of exotic animals.

He was once the owner of a grand estate, Hacienda Nápoles, just under 100 miles east of Medellin. In the early 1980s, Escobar built an illegal zoo full of rhinos, giraffes, zebras and hippos on his estate.

After his death it was seized by the government and now acts as a safari theme park. Most of the exotic animals that he housed in the on site zoo were re-homed. Except the hippos. Now, scientists say, the four original hippos now number around 80 and are having a detrimental effect on Colombian waters. 

While some remain in the current theme park, some slipped through the flimsy gate and are now feral. 

Escobar bought the hippos from a zoo in California and flew them to his ranch in the early 1980s. Left to themselves on his Napoles Estate, they bred to become supposedly the biggest wild hippo herd outside Africa.

Escobar’s hippos have become feral, living in at least four lakes in the area and spreading into neighboring rivers – confounding the problem.

The crime lord’s hippos are also much more sexually active than their cousins in Africa because of the perfect conditions, shallow water and no drought. 

All the fertile females are reported to be giving birth to a calf every year, the BBC said in 2014. And this is a problem for the water, if not local farmers who risk their wrath while working.  

“If you plot out their population growth, we show that it tends to go exponentially skyward. In the next couple of decades there could be thousands of them,” according to Jonathan Shurin, of UCSD.

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

Things That Matter

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

jairmessiasbolsonaro / Instagram

President Jair Bolsonaro is blaming the indigenous community for the fires that raged in the Amazon. The fires set off international outrage as the rainforest faced unprecedented destruction by out of control fires. President Bolsonaro went against the rest of the international community during a speech to the U.N.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants the United Nations to know that indigenous people were responsible for the Amazon fires.

In a remote session opening the U.N. General Assembly, President Bolsonaro spoke at length about the indigenous communities starting the fires. He also used the speech to speak out against the criticism his administration is receiving over his environmental policies and his response to Covid. Brazil is currently the second most infected country in the world with the second highest death rate.

The Amazon has experienced increased fires since President Bolsonaro took office.

For the first seven months of 2020, 13,000 sq. km. (5,019 sq. miles) of the Brazilian rainforest have burned. This year saw the second-highest level of fires on a global scale with fires raging across the Amazon, Australia, and the West Coast of the U.S.

President Bolsonaro openly contradicted expert findings to fit his narrative.

President Bolsonaro claims that the humidity of the forest contains the fires. According to President Bolsonaro’s speech, fires in the Amazon only happen in certain areas because of how well the humidity can keep the fires in check.

“The fires practically occur in the same places, on the east side of the forest, where peasants and Indians burn their fields in already deforested areas,” Bolsonaro said.

President Bolsonaro’s speech touches on the environmental record his administration is known for.

The Bolsonaro administration has made dismantling environmental and indigenous rights since taking power. The administration has worked to limit the amount of land available to indigenous people and to open up Amazonian rainforest to miners, loggers, farmers, developers, and other uses that are damaging and contributing to the fires. Deforestation by these industries are largely to blame for the out-of-control wildfires that burned for a very long time in the Brazilian Amazon.

Activists are getting ready to fight for the indigenous community and the rainforest.

“We must denounce this political catastrophe that destroys the environment and our future,” Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s main Indigenous umbrella organization, to NBC News.

READ: Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Despite countrywide stay-at-home orders that are among the world’s most strict, and even cartel-enforced lockdowns, crime is on the rise across Colombia. The increase has been driven by massacre-style attacks on the country’s most vulnerable communities: Afro-Colombians and Indigenous groups.

The recent torture and murder of five black teens who had stepped outside to fly kites, has reignited the conversation on race and how the government can step up to make sure minority groups across the country can be better protected.

A group of Afro-Latino teens were found tortured and murdered in Cali, Colombia.

Five Black teenagers left their homes in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to fly their kites and play on a recent August morning. The young friends, aged between 14 and 18, didn’t show up at home for lunch. By midday, their mothers were looking for them.

“The boys were found tortured, burned, with machete and bullet wounds,” said Erlendy Cuero, a social leader from Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. “Right now, the people who live here are sad but also very scared.”

Community members recently led a protest denouncing racism and violence inflicted by the Colombian state, and demanding justice for the murdered teens and other Afro-Colombian people who’ve been killed.

The mother of one of the Cali victims said: “Because we’re vulnerable and black, lots of people think they can walk all over us and forget about what happened to our children. Don’t let it be forgotten.”

The brutal killings are a reminder to Colombians that ethnic minorities are the most affected by violence.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Colombia is a country that has grown accustom to violence, but the massacre of these Black teens has shocked the country as a whole. And it’s brought to light a very real issue of racism in the country and shown exactly which communities suffer the most: ethnic minorities.

The recent masacre has also illuminated cracks in the still fragile peace deal between the government and former-FARC rebels. Just days after the boys were found murdered, a grenade was thrown at the police station in Llano Verde. The attack injured 15 people and left one man dead.

“We can’t assure they’re related, but neither can we rule out that hypothesis,” said Jorge Iván Ospina, Cali’s mayor.

The communities that suffer the most from widespread violence, are the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. They have little protection from the central government in Bogota. However, it appears that finally, Colombians are starting to realize that peace will never be possible without listening to those communities who are most affected by violence.

Massacres are on the rise across the country, despite countrywide stay-at-home orders.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders thanks to the Coronavirus. However, the number of massacres carried out this year is record breaking. In 2020, there have been at least 43 massacres leaving at least 181 dead.

The majority of them are taking place in the country’s south-west, home to larger populations of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. Although responsibility for the massacres remains unclear, the government is pointing fingers at drug cartels. Families of victims though disagree, saying that their loved ones had no involvement with the drug trade.

A frequent complaint in these areas is that there is no government presence, allowing elements of armed groups that did not accept the peace agreements made in 2016 by the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos to fight for control of territory. 

The massacres are at least bringing forth a conversation on race and vulnerable communities in the country.

From police brutality to government indifference, Black and Indigenous Colombians live very different lives from the rest of the country. They’re more often targeted for abuse by police, they’re more likely to fall victim to massacres, and the government affords them little in the way of official protections from discrimination.

The recent murder of the teens from Cali, is finally bringing the #BlackLivesMatter conversation to a country that has long denied the existence of racism within its borders.

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