The horseshoe theory of politics states that the political spectrum is shaped like a horseshoe instead of a straight line running in opposite directions. Far-right and far-left political ideologies begin to converge, and people in those two groups start to become more aligned instead of alienated. I think the horseshoe theory applies to blogging too. I decided to stop writing about bees and the natural world this winter since everything is dormant. For fun I am writing on all sorts of wackadoodle topics for my Left Field collection. Pablo Escobar’s Cocaine Hippos are so far into Left Field that they have come right back around and fit in with my usual blogging about the natural world. Put on your safari hats, and let’s talk about cocaine hippos!
Back in the 1980s when first lady Nancy Reagan was telling children to “Just Say No,” Pablo Escobar was running the world’s largest cocaine syndicate from his palatial estate in rural Columbia. Escobar was reported to have a net worth of $30 billion US dollars. He created a zoo of exotic animals on his ranch that included giraffes, zebras, and four hippos. The hippos were kept in a lagoon surrounded by an electric fence. It was hippo Shangri-La. When the drug kingpin died, the government rounded up all the animals and relocated them to zoos, but they left the hippos. Why? Well, hippos are a pain to catch and move. In spite of their cute and Rubenesque appearance, hippos are aggressive and dangerous. More people are harmed in Africa from hippo attacks than from any other type of animal attack. The Columbian government needed Nancy Reagan at the meeting when the fate of the hippos was being discussed. When one official asked, “Do you think we could just leave the hippos where they are?” Nancy could have retorted, “Just Say No!”
After Pablo Escobar was killed, he stopped paying his electric bill. The fence that contained the hippos stopped working, and the hippos were free to roam about the countryside. Turns out that the Columbian habitat is better for hippos than their native African habitat. Every day was like vacation, and hippos did what most couples like to do when they are on vacation. (Cue the Barry White music.) The hippos were prolific procreators, and now the cocaine hippo herd is over a hundred strong.
The locals have mixed feelings about the hippos. Many like having the hippos in their town, and they view them as mascots. You can even go to Columbia and pay for a guided tour to see the cocaine hippos. I wonder if Stevie Nicks has been there. She once confessed that in the early Fleetwood Mac days she kept a gram of cocaine in her boot at all times. I can see her in a gypsy skirt on a tour boat saying, “That hippo there is the one I paid for.”
The hippos are an ecological disaster like most invasive species are. Doug and I have been battling invasive species for a while, so we understand how one plant or animal can wreak havoc on an entire ecosystem. Our nemesis is the invasive bush honeysuckle plant, which is decimating the forest ecosystems in Kentucky. (You can see the video I made about bush honeysuckle by clicking here.) The complexity of an ecosystem is difficult to fathom until you accidentally throw it out of balance. The problem with the hippos is that they eat a high fiber diet that causes them to defecate in large quantities. The native fish don’t enjoy swimming in hippo sewage. Less fish means less food for native birds, and a negative cascade begins to ripple through the local ecosystem.
Because the hippos have become a tourist attraction and are now viewed as the town pets, killing the hippos seems out of the question. If left unchecked, the hippos will spread farther out into Columbia, and their number could increase into the thousands. Conservation officials are now working on chemical birth control for the hippos because apparently hippos don’t respond well to abstinence education. Conservation officials have previously tried sterilizing the hippos. They successfully sterilized one hippo per year, which is not enough to curb the population. Sterilizing a hippo is tricky business. I’m reminded of the children’s game Operation by Milton Bradley. The TV commercial for the game has a voice overlay of a narrator saying, “It takes a very steady hand.” The surgery to sterilize a hippo is complicated, and one documentary I watched said that the whole process is very stressful for the animal as well as the humans involved. I thought I had a hard job back when I worked in corporate America managing large groups of people for a biotech company. On my worst days, my job was not as hard as that of the vet who is responsible for castrating hippos.
The entire hippo problem could have been avoided if somebody years ago had the fortitude to do something about those four lone hippos in Pablo Escobar’s zoo. Even if they decided to leave the hippos where they were, they could have kept the electric running to charge the fence around the lagoon. They could have held a hippo lottery to let interested parties come and get the hippos. They could have blasted the hippos 24/7 with Milli Vanilli music. That would have killed the hippo’s desire to procreate as well as sapped their will to live. Maybe you don’t have a hippo problem in your life, but do you have some other problem you have avoided addressing? A closet that needs to be cleaned? A conversation that needs to be held? A decision that needs to be made? Procrastination can lead to unintended consequences like hippo sewage. As you consider putting off those hard things for another day, remember the cocaine hippos and Just Say No.