Cocaine king's hippo gunned down in Colombia

BOGOTA Sat Jul 11, 2009 1:38am BST

A herd of hippopotami swim in a muddy lake at the abandoned country home of former drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in central Colombia in Puerto Triunfo, December 10, 2002. REUTERSS/Albeiro Lopera

A herd of hippopotami swim in a muddy lake at the abandoned country home of former drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in central Colombia in Puerto Triunfo, December 10, 2002.

Credit: ReutersS/Albeiro Lopera

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Drug lord Pablo Escobar's hippo died the same way he did, hunted down and shot by the authorities for posing a danger to the public.

The African-born hippopotamus that escaped three years ago from a ranch once owned by Escobar was killed on orders of the government, authorities said on Friday.

Cocaine king Escobar, who was gunned down by police on a rooftop in the city of Medellin in 1993, was so flush with cash that he flew in hundreds of exotic animals, including kangaroos, flamingos, elephants, rhinos, and nine hippos.

Many were given away to zoos after his death and collapse of his cartel. But two dozen hippos continued to live and mate on his former estate in northern Colombia.

A male and a female escaped in 2006, freely roamed the wetlands near the Magdalena River and even reproduced in the wild. They were rarely seen and became something of a local legend until two journalists found them grazing 65 miles (100 km) away from the ranch last month.

Colombia's environmental agency ordered the animals killed, saying they were carriers of disease and posed a risk to local communities.

Colombians were shocked by television images broadcast on Friday of the carcass of the male hippopotamus surrounded by hunters and soldiers dressed in camouflage. Animal rights groups denounced the killing.

"They could have been captured and kept in a safe place until a permanent refuge was found for them," said Marcela Ramirez of a local group called Animal Protection Network.

The hunt was still on for the surviving adult hippo.

"It was only a question of time before those animals hurt someone," Environment Minister Carlos Costa told reporters. "After more than two years of trying to capture them, the decision (to kill them) was a sound one."

The slain hippo was known locally as "Pepe" and had recently sired a calf by his mate, according to local fishermen who had caught glimpses of the three together.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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