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Pablo Escobar cultivated a reputation as a Robin Hood-type figure in Colombia because even though he built his empire on cocaine addiction, he gave a lot of money to the poor. Now, some biologists say he might have done even more, in a similarly contrary way.
A multi-billionaire, Escobar built an elaborate estate that even included a zoo, and while most of his animals were sent to new homes after his death in 1993, northern Colombia is now rife with dozens of descendants of the pet hippos he kept. Ordinarily, such an invasive species would be seen as a threat to native creatures, but some biologists say that these hippos might help bring back a lost ecosystem thriving with animals.
“The feral hippos in South America are similar in diet and body size to extinct giant llamas, while a bizarre type of extinct mammal – a notoungulate – shares with hippos large size and semiaquatic habitats," said John Rowan, Darwin fellow in organismic and evolutionary biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "So, while hippos don’t perfectly replace any one extinct species, they restore parts of important ecologies across several species."
Pablo Escobar and his empire:
- Forbes once listed Escobar as the seventh wealthiest person in the world; he is said to have amassed $30 billion USD in his lifetime.
- Escobar used everything from cars and planes to submarines to distribute cocaine.
- His $60 million estate in Colombia had a soccer field, bullfighting arena, dinosaur statues, and artificial lakes -- and the zoo, of course.