Descendants of hippos kept by Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar on his private zoo are ‘people’ whose rights can be defended and enforced.
A U.S. court ruling, first of its kind, can go a long way in courts recognising animals as ‘legal people’. A court in Ohio has granted an application by the “Community of Hippopotamuses Living in the Magdalena River” in Colombia filed on their behalf by nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
In its application, ALDF sought testimony of two wildlife experts on animal contraceptives who live in Ohio to support an ongoing litigation in a Colombian court to stop the government from culling the hippos.
The U.S. law allows anyone who is an “interested person” in a foreign litigation to request permission from a federal court to take depositions in the U.S. in support of their foreign case.
The cocaine hippos, so called for their owner’s drugs connection, have grown from the original four kept by Escobar in his private zoo at his estate Hacienda Napoles to nearly 100. These hippos are being considered a risk to local ecology and the Colombian government plans to kill them.
The lawsuit filed in Colombia by attorney Luis Domingo Gomez Maldonado on behalf of the hippos seeks to administer them a contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida), which is recommended by Animal Balance, an international organisation that focuses on sterilization of animals.
The ADLF application in the U.S. court sought testimony of wildlife experts of Animal Balance to bolster the Colombian case for saving the hippos and controlling their population growth by giving them an effective contraceptive.
In the 1980s, Escobar purchased four hippos for his private zoo. After Escobar’s death, the Colombian government left the hippos on his property because it was unable to transport them to a suitable environment. In the years that followed, the hippos escaped the property, relocated to the Magdalena River, and reproduced at a rate that some ecologists consider to be unsustainable.
“Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of U.S. courts to recognize their rights impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The court’s order authorizing the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the United States is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”