Colombia has logged its first hippopotamus-caused road traffic accident after a car crashed into one of the animals at high speed, leaving the vehicle mangled and the two-tonne mammal lying lifeless and bloodied across a highway.
The hippo was declared dead soon after the crash on Tuesday night in the municipality of Doradal on a highway connecting the cities of Bogotá and Medellín, local environmental authorities said.
The car’s driver was reportedly unharmed, though images show that the front end of the vehicle was almost entirely destroyed and debris from the crash and blood from the hippo’s carcass was smeared across the tarmac.
The hippo is a descendant of four animals imported from Africa to Colombia by Escobar at the height of the drug lord’s power in the 1980s.
The beasts escaped following Escobar’s death, and with no predators in the Colombian countryside, they have multiplied into a plague of 150, becoming a threat to local people and a headache for Colombia’s environment ministry.
Hippo attacks on people have become more common in recent years, as the animals are highly territorial.
Residents in the state of Antioquia live in growing fear of the invasive animals, who are jeopardising the livelihoods of local fishers and endangering the many animal species that inhabit Colombia’s principal river.
The accident reveals yet another danger that the invasive hippos pose to the local community, said Luz Dámaris Luján, a community leader in Estacion Pita, a municipality 10km away from the scene of the crash.
“Everyone around here is terrified because we are flooded with these hippopotamuses. Now we’re at the point where we can’t even go out at night any more,” she said. “The government needs to hurry up and do something, because we are getting tired of this.”
Last month, local fishers warned that it was likely only a matter of time before local residents killed one of the animals – although they predicted that it would be with bullets, not a 4×4.
Other Colombians mourned the loss of the giant herbivore on social media and lamented the dark legacy of Escobar.
“You feel sad for an innocent being that was just passing by. We should all feel guilty, because it is the work of us human beings,” posted Luisa Lozano in response to a video showing the scene of the accident.
The invasive species has been a thorny issue for successive Colombian governments. Studies estimate the population could rise as high as 1,400 by 2034, and ecologists warn that they must be culled before they cause more irreversible damage to the delicate ecosystem of the Magdalena river or cause their first human fatality.
Recently, local officials have proposed shipping 70 of the animals to zoos and sanctuaries in Mexico and India, though experts are sceptical that the plan will succeed.
Aníbal Gaviria Correa, the governor of Antioquia state, who is heading the plan to export Escobar’s hippos, tweeted gruesome images of the crash and called for the president, Gustavo Petro, and the environment minister, Susana Muhamad, to support him in his plans to fly the beasts abroad.
“This painful accident reaffirms the importance of urgently translocating the hippos from Doradal to India and Mexico … Please help us with permits for the transfer of these majestic animals,” he said.