Are There Hippos In Brazil?

credit: Peter Parker

Hippos are native to Africa and are the third largest mammals on Earth. While hippos may seem cute and cuddly to some, they are very aggressive. Hippos need water to survive and live in places with an abundance of water, but are these water-loving creatures found in Brazil?

Yes, there are hippos in Brazil. Although hippos are native to Africa, they are found in some parts of Columbia, Brazil. These hippos are an introduced species and aren’t native to South America. Many conservationists are against keeping hippos in Brazil due to their negative environmental impact.

How Common Are Hippos In Brazil?

Hippos are not commonly found in Brazil. Some commonly found animals in Brazil include monkeys, jaguars, maned wolves, and giant otters. The most frequently found animal in Brazil is the capybara.

The hippos in Brazil are in a region of roughly 870 square miles. When these hippos were first brought to Brazil, they were confined to the Hacienda Napoles ranch. Today, some hippos have spread beyond this residence and now live along the Magdalena River.

The hippos confined to the ranch don’t threaten the local ecosystem, but those living beyond this point do.

Why Are There Hippos In Brazil?

Brazil’s hippos are often called ‘cocaine hippos’ because they were imported from Africa by the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar smuggled four hippos into the country to keep on his private estate. These weren’t the only animals imported by Escobar; he had a collection of rare goats too.

After Escobar died in 1993, the hippos were left to roam, and many settled along the Magdalena River.

The hippos were too heavy to transport back to Africa, and despite Brazil not being a natural habitat for hippos, Escobar’s hippos have been able to adapt to their environment and reproduce rapidly.

How Many Hippos Are In Brazil?

The exact number of hippos in Brazil today remains unknown. However, a recent study (2023) revealed that there are 181-215 hippos in the wild in Columbia. Because these hippos reproduce faster than the African hippos, their numbers keep growing.

The biggest problem with the increase in the hippo population is their effect on the natural habitat. In Africa, the hippo population is controlled through shrunken waterways, disease, and predators.

Hippos are naturally aggressive and can fight to the death, which is another thing that keeps the population in check.

Can Hippos Thrive In Brazil?

The tropical climate of Columbia is the perfect oasis for hippos. In this environment, there is enough rain to keep the rivers full, no dry season, plenty of food, and no predators. As a result, the hippos reach reproductive maturity much sooner and live longer.     

If no action is taken to reduce the population of hippos in Brazil, they will keep reproducing until the population becomes out of control. Hippos also threaten native species like manatees, turtles, and fish.

Hippos overcrowd the natural habitat of these species and affect not only their living conditions but their food sources too.

Hippos affect the biochemistry of water sources through their fecal matter. This organic fecal matter can severely impact all organisms that live in the water and need a water source to survive.

Because hippos are native to Africa, the native species can tolerate hippos and their environmental impact.

In Brazil, however, hippos affect the nutrients in the water and aquatic communities. These animals haven’t had time to adapt to the change of nutrients in the water from the hippos, and this can lead to them dying out.

The current population of hippos is reproducing at a rate of 11% which means that the population may reach 7089 by 2060 if nothing action is taken to control them.

Are Hippos Protected In Brazil?

Hippos are considered a vulnerable species by many NGO’s including the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Hippos haven’t always been protected in Brazil. After Pepe, a local hippo, was shot and killed in 2009 for terrorizing the local farms and community, the authorities had no choice but to legally protect the hippos.

How Is The Hippo Population Being Controlled?

There have been many debates by conservationists on what should be done to control the hippo population. According to an article posted by BBC World, which mentions a study carried out on hippos, the best way to minimize their environmental impact is by culling them.

Other conservationists support sterilizing the hippos, and many have already been sterilized. Sterilizing hippos is no easy task. Since hippos spend most of their time in water and come out at night, sterilization needs to take place at night.

A hippo’s reproductive organs are inside their bodies, making surgery more difficult. These are also huge animals, and despite the surgery being very complicated, the most dangerous part of sterilizing a hippo is tranquilizing them through their very thick skin, which takes a whole team of people.

Are Hippos Illegally Traded In Brazil?

The hippos in Brazil are illegally traded in Brazil. These large mammals are sought after by wealthy local ranch owners and are considered a status symbol. Adult hippos are hard to catch and dangerous, so many hunters are after the calves, which are trapped and sold.

Most of the trafficking of hippos remains silent and goes unnoticed, but the locals in the region know about this illegal trading.

Are Hippos Dangerous In Brazil?

Hippos are one of the deadliest mammals in the world and kill around 500 people each year. These mammals can run just as fast as humans on land but are faster in the water.

Hippos are not only dangerous because of their weight and size but because of their teeth, which can kill humans with a single bite.

Hippos are unpredictable, and this also makes them dangerous. A hippo’s teeth are designed to fight, and when males become aggressive, they use their teeth to fight.

The most important thing to remember when you come across a hippo is that a hippo will only attack when stressed or when it feels threatened. The best way to avoid being attacked is to stay on land and avoid contact.

If hippos are in the water and there is sufficient space between you and a hippo, they are unlikely to attack. Although deemed aggressive and dangerous animals, in this type of situation, they are placid and like to keep to themselves.

Why Are Hippos Dangerous In Brazil?

Hippos are dangerous in Brazil because some have migrated from Escobar’s ranch to sections along the Magdalene River and roam freely. These hippos are in close proximity to locals and villagers and can attack if they feel threatened.

In Africa, in the hippo’s natural habitat, they tend to be more aggressive when the seasons are dry, and less water and food are available. There aren’t dry seasons in Brazil, so the hippos are slightly less likely to attack.

Local farmers, fishermen, and residents in Brazil have experienced aggressive hippos, and there have been a few incidents where hippos have attacked humans, cattle, and fishing boats. While some locals keep their distance, others consider their pets, and many walk up to them and want to pet them.

Can Tourists See Hippos In Brazil?

Tourists can visit the Santa Fe Zoo in Medellin to see hippos in Brazil. Many tourists risk visiting the hippos in the jungles of Columbia, and locals have made a lot of money by offering private tours.

This type of tour can be very dangerous, and although there haven’t been any reported incidents of tourists being injured by hippos, it’s best to visit them at the zoo.

Tourists also visit Hacienda Napoles, Pablo Escobar’s estate, which is now a theme park with a wildlife sanctuary. Around 50,000 people visit the estate each year, and some visit to get a glimpse of Escobar’s hippos.

Most hippos live on or near the estate and are free roaming. There are numerous signs on the property cautioning visitors to watch out for the hippos.