US court recognises animals as legal persons in wrangle over Pablo Escobar’s hippos

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A US court has recognized animals as “legal persons” for the first time in the US – in a case involving hippos involving notorious “cocaine king” Pablo Escobar.

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The lawsuit was filed last year in South America to protect dozens of animals—which are non-native and considered too many—from being killed.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio acknowledged hippopotamus status during the legal proceedings. Animals are considered property under US law, which limits their rights.


In the 1980s, Colombian drug smuggler Escobar imported four African hippopotamuses for his private zoo, and after his death in 1993, the animals remained on his property.

In later years, they escaped, moved into the Magdalena River, one of the country’s main waterways, and reproduced at a rate that some ecologists considered unsustainable. Experts argued that their numbers could be “out of control” within decades.

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The US-based Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which works for 100 hippos, descendants of Escobar’s imports, filed a lawsuit against the Colombian government over its plan to kill them.

Animals in Colombia have the right to bring lawsuits to protect their interests.

ALDF executive director Stephen Wells said the court’s order “is an important milestone in the fight for the broader status of animals to recognize that animals have enforceable rights”.

While the legal case continues, a regional environmental agency has begun administering contraceptive medication to some animals.

But the ALDF says it wants to offer a different contraceptive, one that has already been used successfully on hippos in zoos, claiming that the safety of government contraception is unknown.


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