The main attraction at a new amusement park in central
Colombia is a family of hippopotamuses, originally imported from Africa. Their
home is not a zoo or Wildlife Park, but the former estate of one of the world's
most notorious drug lords. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report from Medellin,
Pablo Escobar no longer strikes fear in the residents of Medellin. The
Colombian city has moved on since 1993 when Colombian police killed the man
whose powerful Medellin drug cartel was responsible for murder and mayhem.
behind a vast compound called Hacienda
Napoles, a few hours outside Medellin.
lord commissioned a bull fighting ring, wild Animal Park and huge dinosaur
models to entertain guests at his ranch.
local investors rebuilt many of the original features at Hacienda Napoles and
opened a theme park.
can see what remains of Escobar's house. After his death, the estate was mired
in legal claims. It fell into neglect. Vandals stripped the house of anything
A few signs
describe Escobar's history of violence and cocaine trafficking, which at its
peak in the late 1980s is said to have generated $30 billion a year.
Some of the
money went for lavish purchases, such as three African hippos. They now live on a lagoon on the property.
Ocampo is a park worker at the Hacienda Napoles. She says the animals have
thrived far from their native habitat, even with little human help. "For
17 years no one here fed them, but they managed to survive on the natural
vegetation. Now they are the main attraction here at the park, because this is
one of few places where they have bred in a natural habitat," she said.
original three hippos reproduced and there are now 22 of the huge, water-loving
animals in Hacienda Napoles.
One of the
most recent additions is Vanessa, a 14-month-old female which is receiving
special treatment from park employees.
Because Vanessa lives in a separate area, park employees say she is
unknown to the rest of the herd.
employee says, "Each day Vanessa receives 12 liters of a special milk
formula, as well as grass, carrots and salt. She cannot visit the big lagoon,
otherwise the other hippos might kill her because she does not belong to their
group," the employee said.
relative freedom and space given to the hippos at Hacienda Napoles is rare
among man-made animal parks. Miami Metrozoo, for example, houses only the pygmy
hippo largely because its needs are much less than than those of its larger
is communications director for Miami Metrozoo. "When
you keep them in captivity at least in a U.S. zoo, they have to be kept with a
filtration system that needs a lot of maintenance and costs a lot of money,”
Magill said. “Keeping them otherwise, you need a large piece of property, and
if you are going to keep them in some natural swamp area, you need to have
water running through it."
But even at
Hacienda Napoles, space is running out for the hippos, as the hippos continue
to reproduce. "Some
of the hippos have been taken to zoos. A couple disappeared up the river when
they were forced out by the lead male, and a few have died. Most of those who
have died were killed by the lead male," Ocampo said.
tendency toward violence is a characteristic the hippos share with their notorious
former owner, Pablo Escobar.