At the height of his criminal career, Pablo Escobar, the villainous drug lord of Colombian infamy, was smuggling an estimated 15 tons of cocaine ($60 million) into the United States per day. The “King of Cocaine” grossed $21.9 billion per year. In fact, he reportedly had so much money that he spent $1,000 a week on rubber bands to wrap the cash with; the money stayed in storage long enough that the Colombian rats would come in and chew on $100 bills, costing Escobar close to $2 billion in losses each year.

What does a man with that much money do when he can’t keep the wild animals from eating it? He used the money to buy a zoo and put wild animals on display.

It’s called the Hacienda Nápoles, and it includes a Spanish villa in northwestern Colombia’s Puerto Triunfo. Included among the site’s exhibits were zebras, ostriches, giraffes, elephants, and antelope. He even had bison roaming the compound. 

Escobar, under increased pressure from the Colombian government, surrendered to authorities in 1991 in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. However, he continued running his drug empire from behind bars, culminating in his escape from custody when he was being transferred to another jail. He was finally killed Dec. 2, 1993, after a firefight broke out between he and his bodyguard and the Colombia National Police while the two criminals ran along the rooftops of metropolitan Medellin.

During the roughly two years he was on the lam, Escobar’s South American playground lied in limbo. Only with his death did the zoo again receive attention, with a legal struggle between Escobar’s survivors and the Colombian government over the zoo’s ownership ensuing.  The maintenance costs were too high for the local government to cover, so the Hacienda Nápoles was closed and the animals shipped to various national and international zoos (although the compound did begin operating as a theme park in 2008). 

Except for the hippos. Riding on the same latitudinal line as the African countries of Kenya and the Congo, Colombia offers the animals lush vegetation and plenty of water to submerge themselves in. The original male and three females have increased to an estimated 60 hippos. They reside on and around the grounds — initially allowed to stay, but now so numerous that relocation to other zoos is unlikely, if not impossible.

Four lakes lie within close proximity of the hacienda; that’s where the hippos went and where they stayed until recent drought conditions brought them out in search of new water. As many as 20,000 animals from various species have died from the drought in Colombia as of April 2014, with that number undoubtedly higher since that estimate.

So the hippos went looking for water, and they weren’t averse to looking for it in well-populated areas.  Fox News reported Tuesday two animals have entered Medellin — the second-largest city in the country and site of their former owner’s death — grazing among local cattle and walking the streets like stray dogs.

The pair is causing such a disturbance that locals are warning children to be cautious when going to and fro.

Officials have ordered tranquilizing equipment and are awaiting its delivery, but are still unwilling to kill the animals. The current plan has the animals being relocated to a safe area, but if they continue showing a reckless disregard for humans that non-lethal strategy may quickly change.




Cover Image: Thinkstock

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