Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Hippo Alert

Charlie Pierce:

We here at the shebeen have been keeping an eye on the saga of Pablo Escobar’s hippopotami. The deceased drug lord, who may have been deep in his own product when he decided to do this, smuggled in four hippos for his private zoo. When Escobar got ventilated by the Colombian National Police in 1993, the authorities sold off all the animals in his zoo. Except the hippos. In this, the authorities were incredibly stupid. Hippos are murderous, raging mountains of beast-flesh who fear nothing and can eat boats. (Well, maybe not eat them, but certainly make a large dish of boat hash out of them.) As far as I’m concerned, hippos can stay in their own damn hemisphere, thank you very much.

The four hippos thrived. They were fruitful. They multiplied. There were 80 of them, and then there were 120 of them, and, if the Americas weren’t careful, we’d be overrun by hippo kudzu from Tierra del Fuego to the Yukon. BUILD THE DAMN WALL NOW!

Sorry, I was briefly overcome by inter-species panic there.

Now, however, Colombia thinks it has solved the problem. From the Washington Post:

Authorities this year have intervened, using a chemical contraceptive to sterilize the animals without the blowback that would come from exterminating what has grown to become “the town pet.” Developed by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the drug GonaCon inhibits production of an animal’s sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, putting it in “a nonreproductive state.” The USDA donated 55 doses of the drug to Colombian wildlife officials.

Why not just shoot them, you might ask. After all, when Pablo Escobar found an invasive species taking root in his business, that’s what he did. Unfortunately, the Colombian public would not stand for it.

But officials haven’t sold the public on the argument that hippos are bad. In fact, some Colombians have grown fond of the African transplants over the years, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. They’ve even stoked a budding tourism industry. Residents give visitors safari tours and sell hippo-related souvenirs. Gift shops in a nearby town sell hippo T-shirts and keychains. At the amusement park built on the ruins of Hacienda Nápoles, tourists check out the lake where dozens of hippos now live. “The hippopotamus is the town pet,” one resident, Claudia Patricia Camacho, said in a 2018 piece by the news program Noticias Caracol.

No, no, Claudia, no. The hippo is not a pet. The hippo is two tons of death on four legs. And it’s not like the hippos in Colombia haven’t already started in on their favorite recreational pastime—fcking humans up.

Officials have tried to make the case over the years that hippos are bad for the country. Ecologists say they wreak havoc on the environment. Nutrients in the hippos’ feces fuel algae blooms, which reduce oxygen levels in the water. That can kill fish, kneecapping local industry. Hippos can also hurt people. Last year, one bit a rancher’s leg, breaking his leg, hip and several ribs.

The hippo bit this dude’s leg, Claudia, and broke just about every bone south of his sternum. I’m sincerely hoping the hippo contraceptive plan works. This weekend is the Head of the Charles Regatta, one of my favorite local events. I don’t want to read some day in the future that a hippo came rampaging upriver toward Memorial Bridge and ate an eight-man shell with all hands.

I bring this story to you for two reasons. The first is that I know my dad would have loved to hear about hippos on the rampage, like something gone horribly awry in a vengeful “Fantasia” segment.

And second, my good friend Franky Gonzalez has written a play about just such an occurrence: “Escobar’s Hippo.” I recommend it highly.

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