Saturday, September 10, 2011

Something Different: Drug Kingpin Hippos

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

I've mentioned before that, late at night, I generally like to fall asleep to a sitcom. But, there are times when I scroll through a few hundred channels on the Guide and don't find anything that catches my eye. That's when I turn to random things that sound interesting, and that's how I came across Drug Kingpin Hippos, an Animal Planet one-hour special that premiered in July. I had completely missed all marketing for this creation, despite hippos holding a special place in my heart. Therefore, I immediately put it on, then set the DVR to catch the next airing (as I was tuning in three-quarters of the way through at that point). I found it to be pretty interesting and wanted to share some remarks alongside a recaps.

First, you should know that the special isn't just about hippos. It's also not really about hippoS, more like hippo. Now, an explanation of the title. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar was big into drug cartelling, running cocaine from Columbia to the US for ridiculous amounts of money. By age 32, he had cornered the market and was controlling 80% of the market for smuggling cocaine into the US. He employed an extreme level of violence, more or less creating narco-terrorism. He was extremely wealthy, and poured 63 million dollars into his estate, which became a tourist attraction for his friends and the mafia. "Hacienda Napoles" was 9 times the size of Central Park, and Escobar collected around 700 animals. He had built a dam, a private airstrip, and several lakes, allowing him to house many types of species.

Noe, moving past Escobar and onto the hippo part of the special... Pablo had an obsession with hippos as a child, since he had a sticker album where hippos were difficult to obtain. For Escobar's private zoo, he purchased four hippos from a US zoo. [We're not told which one, probably because I can't imagine it was the greatest move.] Well, over the years those hippos multiplied to 32, making it the largest population of hippos outside of Africa.

In 1991, Napoles fell (Escobar was on the run), and many of the animals were transferred to local zoos. The hippos, however, were too difficult to relocate, so they were left to roam the ranch. [I hadn't realized this was a possibility, but I guess Columbia doesn't have the push for animal welfare that the US does?] The hippos turned up in villages, rivers, and marketplaces, putting the local population in danger.

Hacienda Napoles became a theme park since 2007, and the 32 hippos [there were more at one point] are baited daily to keep them there. It's also a museum, complete with some of Escobar's priceless car collection, which was destroyed by his enemies. However, the hippos often leave, as there is no fence. 7 or 8 are believed to have left the park premises, and there were multiple hippo attacks between 2007 and 2009. One particularly aggressive hippo, Pepe, had to be put down when, after two years of trying, it was deemed that he was too aggressive to relocate.

Now for the premise of this feature: one bull hippo has escaped and is on the run. A team of veterinarians are trying to capture it before it injures or kills someone. The hippo makes it to a river basin about the size of Massachusetts, and they need to locate the hippo before it reaches the Magdalena River, because getting to that point would make the searchable area double the size of Texas. [yikes!]

We're not told how long the team has been searching, but the story really picks up when fresh tracks are found. A platoon keeps watch throughout the night so they can capture the hippo the next day. [I don't know why they didn't name this hippo... I think that would have made this more interesting.] At 4am, they realized that the hippo escaped underwater. An unknown number of hours later, they find the hippo, but the area is fairly flooded, forcing the team to capture the hippo on foot. The plan is to tranquilize the hippo. There are only six darts, and five [perhaps four. There are some conflicting statements, perhaps due to translation] must be used in order to sedate a hippo of that size. The first dart bounces off the hippo, but the second hits the hippo. However, the hippo then runs for the water, which complicates matters - they don't want the hippo to drown. The third shot bounces, and they must retrieve a dart or they won't have enough. The next shot gets the hippo in the neck.

Later, the hippo is caught and castrated, which is a difficult procedure in hippos because they only have a 50% chance of surviving the anesthetic. [that sounds frighteningly low!] Relocating the hippo includes putting the animal in a cage, held by a helicopter cargo net that has a limit of 9,000 pounds. The net doesn't look like it's going to hold up, so they have to fly slower than planned. Then, the helicopter starts overheating, so they need to land very soon. Fortunately, they make it to the airstrip and the veterinarians immediately wake up the hippo. Unfortunately, they are forced to release him at night, against their better plans. [We do not get a final report on how that hippo did, and I cannot find any additional information readily available on the web.] 

Oh, and if you wanted to know what the rest of the special focused on to fill an hour, here's some more info on Escobar... In 1982, Reagan wanted to crack down on drugs, but Escobar was then part of the government of Columbia so he wasn't under severe watch right away. In March 1984, however, Columbia and the US came together to invade Escobar's drug production facilities. 20 tons of base cocaine was found there and destroyed, worth a billion dollars... this became the greatest drug bust in history. Columbia soon agreed to extradite criminals wanted by other countries, which required that Escobar be captured or killed. Well, his drug money financed car bombs, and he blew up police HQs and airliners, among other things. In November 1985, he (not personally) attacked the Palace of Justice. Hundreds of extradition files were destroyed, and more than 100 people died in the fire.

In 1989, an elite unit was formed with the sole purpose of tracking down EVERY lead on Escobar. In turn, Escobar offered $1,000 for every killed police officer... and more than 500 police officers were murdered in one year. Tired of running, Escobar turned himself in during June 1991, provided that he was allowed to pick his prison. While in the fancy lockdown, he kept his drug business going and kept killing. So, the government decided to move him to another location, and 500 soldiers surrounded the prison to capture Escobar, but he was tipped off and had escaped. In December 1993, the government caught a frequency on a phone call he made and were able to locate him. He was shot upon sight.
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

No comments: