Hippos that had been delivered to Colombia a long time in the past by Pablo Escobar, the infamous cocaine kingpin, at the moment are thriving within the nation’s river ecosystems. Scientists even suspect that river habitats could profit from the presence of those non-native hippos, with the massive herbivores filling an ecological area of interest that has been vacant within the area for 1000’s of years.

Many species of huge plant-eaters that when roamed the planet had been pushed to extinction starting about 100,000 years in the past, with extinctions peaking towards the tip of the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years in the past). As huge herbivorous animals vanished, their absence starved the soil of vitamins, altered plant development and even affected water circulation and availability, researchers wrote in a brand new research.

Nonetheless, newly launched nonnative herbivores — similar to Escobar’s “cocaine hippos” — may revitalize and enrich such ecosystems, and will achieve this in areas all over the world, the scientists reported.

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Escobar imported 4 hippos from America in 1981, for a personal zoo at his hacienda close to Medellín, Colombia. After his drug empire collapsed, the hippos escaped and have been breeding within the wild ever since, now numbering 80 people or extra, Scientific American reported in February.

For the brand new research, scientists analyzed the ecological impacts of 427 giant herbivores weighing no less than 22 lbs. (10 kilograms) that lived between 130,000 years in the past and the current day, to see if ailing ecosystems that had been as soon as populated by herbivores could possibly be restored to well being if huge herbivores got here again.

In Colombia, the renegade hippos “current a chimera of a number of extinct species’ trait combos,” the research authors wrote. In different phrases, the hippos’ affect on their adopted habitat — how a lot and what kind of vegetation they eat; how a lot they transfer round inside their vary; how they digest their meals; and the amount of vitamins they return to the habitat as poop — was as soon as carried out by quite a lot of sizable native plant eaters.

Earlier than Escobar’s hippos invaded Colombia’s waterways, the final huge herbivore to roam that a part of South America was the large llama Hemiauchenia paradoxa, or large-headed llama, which vanished round 11,000 years in the past. The closest extinct equal to a contemporary hippo is the large-headed llama, the scientists wrote within the research. Nonetheless, the researchers discovered that hippos had been additionally similar to an extinct semiaquatic hoofed beast known as Trigonodops lopesi, “in all traits however fermentation kind,” based on the research.

Which means that hippos could graze on riverbanks in a way that echoes the habits of extinct llamas, however could distribute vitamins — by way of poop — in a way that’s extra just like one other extinct river animal, the researchers reported.

For now, the ecological affect of Escobar’s hippos continues to be largely unknown. However some consultants have urged that the hippos aren’t such a boon for the surroundings. In reality, they could upset the stability of Colombian ecosystems, as a result of they produce vital portions of dung that may have an effect on the water’s oxygen ranges, based on Scientific American.

Certainly, researchers beforehand famous that in Kenya, river runoff saturated with hippo poo led to 13 mass die-offs in fish, during which fish suffocated in oxygen-poor water, Dwell Science beforehand reported.

The findings had been printed on-line March 23 within the journal Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences.

Initially printed on Dwell Science.