When Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar died in 1993, his animal estate left behind a series of problems, including four adult hippos. Over the years, the number of this invasive population has increased to 80. Recent studies have shown that it has a considerable negative impact on the local river system. But another study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes a different point.
Infographic (from: UCSD / Shurin Lab)
The study, carried out in collaboration with international researchers, has a different perspective on the introduction of herbivores. It cites wild boars in North America and camels in Australia as hippos in Escobar, or help restore the local ecology to the “wild” state of the thousands of years ago.
To observe the impact of alien species on new strange environments, the team looked through a number of historical books looking for large herbivores that had been extinct over the past 100,000 years (the Late Pleistocene period).
The literature says that humans at that time changed ecosystems so much that certain species became extinct. The team analyzed the eating habits of extinct ancient herbivores and the environment and size of their lives.
These shapes were then compared to the imported species to see if there was some pattern overlap. Erick Lundgren, ph.D. researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, said in a statement:
“We can quantify the similarities or different degrees of imported species to pre-extinction species, and surprisingly, the results show that they are actually more similar.”
The team found that 64 percent of introduced species were more likely to be extinct than extinct species, leading to the restoration of late-renewal ecosystems and the lower incidence of wildfires as introduced species changed the landscape.
Of course, the biggest problem with Escobar hippos is their connection to the world’s most notorious drug lords. As a result, invasive species have become an important part of the local tourism industry because of the hunting mentality.
Jonathan Shurin of the University of California, San Diego, in a study published in the January issue of the journal Ecology, noted that hippo’s faeces are fertilizing algae and bacteria in lakes, which can lead to outbreaks of some problematic algae.
Even if the impact of the Escobar hippo on local biodiversity is uncertain, it will need to be removed or controlled, or it could increase to thousands within 20 years, shurin said.
As with other plagues in recent news reports, these things should be sooner rather than later. Getting started early is not only cheaper, more effective, but also more humane.