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Colombia: The Hunt for Pablo Escobar's Hippo

On July 10, 2009, the Colombian magazine Donjuan published a story [es] about the hunt of a male hippopotamus that had escaped from Hacienda Nápoles, a estate owned by late drug lord Pablo Escobar Gaviria during his heyday. “Pepe” the hippo, a descendant of a pair of hippos brought by Escobar to his ranch in the early 80s, was killed [es] mid-June by hunters, accompanied by a company of Army soldiers, which was authorized by the Colombian authorities. Pepe died after three shots, one reached its brain and the other two, its heart. It was the photo of the hippo, already dead and surrounded by the soldiers, which had sparked a national controversy [es].

The Colombian government said it had tried to capture the hippo several times, claiming “they were carriers of disease and posed a risk to local communities”, but animal rights activists and organizations demanded [es] the resignation of Environment Minister Carlos Costa. Another magazine (Donjuan‘s main competitor) organized [es] a flashmob. After the outrage, the authorities suspended the order to hunt Pepe's female partner, known as “Matilda”, and their baby [es] “Hip”. Though initially the authorities said the hippos had attacked people and killed cattle, reports [es] by local media say people living in the area where Pepe was killed did not consider it a threat and that they were deceived by the government environmental agencies, which told them it would be taken to a zoo. Another 22 hippos still live [es] in Hacienda Nápoles.

The controversy, of course, quickly reached Colombian blogosphere and twittosphere. The opinions were divided: some supported the government's decision, others expressed their outrage, a few made jokes, sometimes with sarcasm:


Ahí está la cuota colombiana para aplazar el apocalipsis: el ejército ya dio de baja a un productor irredento de metano. #hipopotamo

That's the Colombian quota to postpone the apocalypse: the Army has already put down an irredeemable methane producer.


Los soldados no tienen culpa de nada. Yo también me hubiera tomado foto con el #hipopótamo

Soldiers aren't guilty of anything. I would have taken a picture with the #hippo too.


si esa es la solucion frente a este problema como será con los mas graves…. #hipopotamo

if that's the solution for this problem, how will they deal the most serious ones…


con la muerte del hipopotamo se demuestra que se aprendió la lección gringa de la guerra preventiva

the death of the hippo death shows that they learned the American lesson of preventive war


Hacemos más bulla por un puto hipopótamo que por una víctima de falsos positivos

We make more fuss for a f***ing hippo than for a victim of false positives


es infame hacer chistes con lo del hipopótamo. es mejor hacerlos cuando los militares matan humanos, al menos esos no están en extinción

it's awful to make jokes with this hippo thing. it's better to make them when soldiers kill humans, at least those ones aren't [an] endangered [species]


la muerte de “PEPE” el hipopotamo traqueto, podría tumbar al ministro de Ambiente pero asesinatos de civiles no tumbaron al ministro Santos.

“PEPE”, the mafia hippo's death could force the removal of the Environment Minister from office, but murders of civilians couldn't oust [former Defense] minister [Juan Manuel] Santos


Los liberales se razgan (sic) las vestiduras por el hipopótamo, ojalá lo hubieran hecho por el elefante.

Liberals lose sleep over the hippo's thing, I wish they had done so over the elephant


Comentan que el hipopótamo antes de morir a manos del Ejército dijo “prefiero una tumba en Colombia que una jaula en Estados Unidos”.

They say the hippo, before die on Army's hands, said “I prefer a grave in Colombia, than a cage in the United States

jack2502 asks to save the hippos [es] and is critical of the government:

esa orden de matar es algo irracional acaso cuando algo nos estorba no desasemos (sic) de el ,como si fuese basura y mas tratandose de unos indefensos animales que si son muy territoriales, pero de todas maneras no es justo. otra cosa hay dinero para guerra , referendos, factor x , que el desafio etc.. y otras estupidese mas pero no hay dinero para poderlos transportar

that order to kill is irrational, do we get rid of something when it comes on our way as if it was trash, even more when they are defenseless, yet territorial animals, but anyway it's not fair. another issue, there's money for war, referenda, x-factor, reality shows, and another stupid things but there's no money to move them [?]

With sarcasm, blueandtanit also deals [es] with the issue :

¿De cuando a acá, en Colombia, el país en el que se comen huevos de Iguana sin que nadie proteste, el país en el que se cazan y comen babillas, el país donde se venden tortugas y peces silvestres en las afueras de escuelas y colegios… Nos preocupamos por el cuidado de nuestra fauna y porque muchas especies de nuestra riqueza en diversidad biológica aumenten su peligro de extinción? No entiendo cuál es el escándalo con los hipopótamos.


¿De cuando a acá nos da pena que nuestro ejército nacional no haga cosas “más valerosas”, Acaso no es este el país donde nuestro “glorioso” ejército nacional muestra una banderita de la cruz roja “por miedo”? No entiendo cuál es el escándalo con los hipopótamos.

Since when in Colombia, the country where iguana eggs are eaten without anyone protesting, the country where spectacled caimans are hunted and eaten, the country where turtles and wild fishes are sold in front of schools… do we worry about our fauna and about a lot of species within our rich biodiversity that are becoming more endangered? I don't understand what's the scandal with the hippos.

Since when are we ashamed because our national army can't do “more courageous” things? Isn't this the country where our “glorious” national army shows a Red Cross flag out of “fear”? I don't understand what's the scandal with the hippos.

Some bloggers attacked both the excessive media coverage of the issue (denouncing their alleged mistakes and misconceptions [es]) and the hypocrisy [es] of most of the Colombian society. For example, Carlos Correa, who writes [es]:

Quizás podríamos entender con esto que los colombianos estamos tomando conciencia del valor de la vida, y de la conservación de nuestro ambiente. O mejor aún, podríamos decir exactamente que somos un gran pueblo hipócrita.

Que otro nombre darle a este pueblo que se rasga las vestiduras frente a la matanza del hipopótamo – que es lamentable, eso ni dudarlo- pero que guarda un silencio aterrador frente al asesinato de seres humanos. Un ejemplo: En Cali en la misma semana que mataron a “pepe” fueron asesinados ¡cuatro! indigentes, en una de las normales campañas de limpieza social.

Casi nadie dijo nada, los medios presentaron tenuemente la noticia y los colombianos defensores de la vida, como que estaban ocupados con el “hipo” porque no se pronunciaron. No hay correos electrónicos de este hecho, ni twiits, ni tan siquiera un grupo de Facebook que condene o comente el hecho. No hay encuestas, ni mensajes de políticos, ni comentarios llenos groserías repudiando la muertes de estos seres humanos, apesar que a dos de ellos los mataron con un paquete bomba, que le hicieron pasar por comida regalada – sádicos-.

Maybe we could understand that with this, that Colombians are becoming more conscious of the value of life and of the value of our environmental conservation. Or even better, we could exactly say we're a huge hypocritical country.

In which other way should we call these people who lose sleep over the hippo's killing -which is regrettable, without a doubt- but which keeps a frightening silence over the murder of human beings. An example: in the same week Pepe was killed, four beggars were murdered in Cali, as part of the usual social cleansing campaigns.

Practically no one said a word, the media reported the news briefly and those Colombians who defend life seemed to be busy with the hippo because they didn't react. No e-mails, no tweets, not even a Facebook group condemning or commenting this event. No polls, no statements by politicians, not even comments full of swear words repudiating the deaths of these human beings, despite the fact that two of them were killed with package bombs, disguised as free food -sadists-.

Finally, journalist Ricardo Galán, a former press secretary for president Álvaro Uribe and also a member of the National Television Commission, tries to explain [es] from his point of view why Colombians were outraged for Pepe's killing:

¿Por qué será que nos duele tanto la muerte del hipopótamo? Quizá porque Pepe no le estaba haciendo mal a nadie a propósito. Quizá porque tenemos claro que el único animal que mata por matar es el hombre. Los demás salvo que los molesten o tengan la imperiosa necesidad de alimentarse no atacan a nadie.

De pronto nuestro subconsciente le quiera decir a la sociedad y a quienes expidieron la orden de exterminarlos, que Pepe no había salido de su hábitat en busca de dinero fácil o aventura. Que no había partido atraído por el poder de las armas.

De pronto, queremos decir que no nos parece justo que se use tanta fuerza, la fuerza de la fuerza pública, para perseguir a un animal y su manada cuyo único pecado, si es que lo tuvo, es haber nacido muy lejos de su ambiente natural porque hace como 30 años a un mafioso se le ocurrió traer de Africa a sus antepasados para lucirlos como trofeos y símbolos andantes de su poder ante propios y extraños.

Why does the death of the hippo hurt us so much? Perhaps because Pepe was not doing evil to anyone on purpose. Perhaps because we are clear that the only animal who kills for the sake of killing is man. The others, unless they're disturbed or have the vital need to feed themselves, don't attack anyone.

Maybe our subconscious wants to tell society and those who issued the order to exterminate them that Pepe had not left its habitat looking for easy money or adventure. That he had not set off attracted by the power of guns.

Maybe we want to say we don't find fair they used such force, the force of the public security forces, to chase an animal and its herd whose only sin, if any, was to had been born very far away from their natural environment because around 30 years ago a mafioso had decided to bring their ancestors from Africa to show them as trophies and as walking symbols of his power in front of everyone.

  • blueandtanit

    Excellent post Julián, congratulations :)

    Gacetilla will miss you forever :(

    Do you know that catirestrepo is a winner of the talents awards in Medellín?

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