Monday, August 8

A US court recognizes Pablo Escobar’s hippos as legal persons


The order of the district court “to help the hippos in their demand not to die”

One of the hippo
One of Pablo Escobar’s hippos.
  • Colombia Pablo Escobar is still alive, 25 years after his death

For the first time, a United States court has recognized animals as legal persons, specifically, the descendants of the hippopotamuses of Pablo Escobar that have proliferated in Colombia since the notorious drug lord was shot to death nearly 30 years ago.

The ruling came after the nonprofit organization Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a request to allow two non-surgical wildlife sterilization experts to provide testimony in support of a Colombian lawsuit to stop a cull.

In federal court in Ohio, the magistrate judge Karen Litkovitz it granted last week the request of the plaintiffs, in this case the “community of hippopotamuses that live in the Magdalena river.”

The ruling is based on a US law that allows a “person concerned” in foreign litigation to request US depositions to help their case. “By granting the request (…) the court recognized the hippos as legal persons with respect to that statute,” the ALDF explained in a statement.

Christopher BerryALDF’s managing attorney, told AFP on Thursday that the district court’s order “to help the hippos in their lawsuit not to die, that is the immediate impact of it.”

“More generally, it is the first concrete example of a US court authorizing animals to exercise a legal right on behalf of the animal itself,” he added.

The lawsuit was filed last July on behalf of the hippos by the lawyer Luis Domingo Gmez Maldonado in Colombia, a country that already recognizes the legal personality of animals.

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Their goal is to prevent the government from euthanizing animals, which are now total about 100, significantly more than the male and three females that Escobar initially acquired.

Exotic collection

Before the police shot him dead in 1993, the cocaine magnate bought exotic animals to live on his ranch, including flamingos, giraffes, zebras and kangaroos.

After their death, all animals except hippos were sold to zoos.

The semi-arctic ungulates were allowed to roam Escobar’s huge Hacienda Npoles estate and continued breeding. Now it is estimated to be the largest herd of hippos living outside of Africa.

The presence of the species has had detrimental consequences for the local ecology, as well as reported attacks on local fishermen.

While the litigation is ongoing, authorities announced on October 15 that they had begun sterilizing the herd with the GonaCon contraceptive, administered with dart guns, and by surgical sterilization.

The lawsuit contends that it is unknown whether the Colombian government will use the drug safely and whether it still intends to kill some of the animals. It seeks to provide hippos with another contraceptive, called PZP (zona pelcida porcina), which has been used successfully in zoos and is recommended by Animal Balance, an international organization that focuses on sterilization of animals.

Thanks to the US court order, the testimony of Animal Balance wildlife experts, Elizabeth Berkeley and Richard Berlinski, It can be used to reinforce Maldonado’s case.

A horse and an elephant await sentencing

Berry said this recent legal decision adds to other cases seeking the prosecution of animals in US courts.

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A horse named Justice is being represented by ALDF in a cruelty and negligence case, while the elephant Happy, that resides in the Bronx Zoo, is being represented by The Nonhuman Rights Project in a habeas corpus case for illegal detention.

It remains to be seen how other courts will take the decision on the hippopotamus into account, “but it is certainly relevant and important to the broader discussion of personality and animal rights,” Berry said.

The movement to grant animals legal status has also been gaining momentum globally.

In 2014, an Argentine court ruled that Sandra, an orangutan, had been subjected to unjust confinement in the Buenos Aires zoo. Now she’s settled in an ape sanctuary in Florida.

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