Colombia to gatecrash hippos' pool party with tourist park at Escobar's hacienda

Click to follow

A zoo set up and abandoned by the drug boss Pablo Escobar at the height of his wealth and notoriety and now home to a family of wild hippopotami is to be turned into a tourist attraction by the government of Colombia.

A zoo set up and abandoned by the drug boss Pablo Escobar at the height of his wealth and notoriety and now home to a family of wild hippopotami is to be turned into a tourist attraction by the government of Colombia.

Officials said the zoo would provide jobs for local people and bolster the local economy.

Colombia has passed legislation to end a 10-year legal battle with the late trafficker's family. The rest of Escobar's sprawling estate, Hacienda Napoles, will be shared by peasants driven from their land by 40 years of civil war.

The country's senior anti-drugs official, Alfonso Plazas, said: "What we would like to do is build a tourist attraction and a museum of Colombian crime."

The seizure of the estate and its zoo - once filled with exotic animals from Africa imported without licences - ends the legal fight with Escobar's wife and children for the property. The new laws made it easier for the government to seize property bought with drug money.

Escobar, killed by Colombian police in 1993, built the 7,400-acre estate during the 1980s near the town of Puerto Triunfo, 100 miles north of the capital, Bogota. It was reportedly the site of notorious, drug-fuelled parties at which Escobar would entertain his guests and business partners from the Medellin drugs cartel. At the time, Escobar, the son of landless peasants, was believed to be the seventh richest man in the world, thanks to his cocaine-smuggling network which controlled the supply of the drug to much of the US.

While he lived there, Escobar placed the small aircraft he used on his first drugs flight to the US above an archway at the entrance to the estate.

For years the estate has been abandoned, housing a few families who had been driven off their land. Like much of the property, the aircraft has been taken by looters. Several cars - part of a fleet of top-of-the-range American vehicles owned by Escobar - lie rusting in a garage. Escobar imported Al Capone's car from Chicago, likening himself and his friends to the US mobster.

But reports from the estate say the only creatures thriving there are a 10-strong family of hippos. Six of them have been born in the wild, almost certainly the only example of a wild hippo birth outside Africa.

The hippos are the remnants of what was once a well-cared-for zoo, stocked with giraffes, lions and rhinos. After Escobar's death, the government transferred most of the animals to other zoos, but for some reason they left the hippos and zebras. The zebras have now gone but the hippos are thriving in a muddy lake next to the Magdalena river. People nearby say that at night the hippos leave the lake and wander about the estate, making regular trips to the stables, where they use a salt lick that the families have put out for their cows. "They tear down the fence every time I put it up and turn everything into a mess, but what can I do," Luis Perea said. "They are huge."

Colombia remains riven by violence, and by the drugs trade. This month, a 1991 report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency surfaced, saying the present Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, was a close friend of Escobar and "dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin [drug] cartel at high government levels".

Colombia is among America's biggest recipients of military aid and the Bush administration said the right-wing Mr Uribe is a close ally in the war on terror, and the war on drugs.

Comments