Pablo Escobar‘s hippopotamuses in Columbia are people errr…persons too!
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recognized the animals as legal persons for the first time in the country per a release from the Animal Legal Defense Fund earlier this month.
The aforementioned hippos populate the Magdalena River in Colombia and descend from four animals once owned by Escobar as part of his private zoo.
Since Escobar’s death in 1993, other animals in that zoo (including rhinoceroses, elephants and giraffes) have all been relocated to more appropriate homes but the hippos were abandoned and have thrived in the area, with an abundance of food and no known predators.
The hippos, which are native to Africa, became plaintiffs in a case in 2020 brought against the Colombian government, which has plans to kill around 100 of them as they continued to procreate and have begun wandering into neighboring villages.
The hippos escaped the Escobar property and relocated to the Magdalena River, according to the ALDF release, where they have reproduced at a rate “that some ecologists consider to be unsustainable.”
Hippos are known to be both territorial and dangerous. They are responsible for more human deaths on African safaris than any other animal.
In an attempt to pursue more humane alternatives to killing such as sterilization, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sought to depose two wildlife experts with expertise in non-surgical sterilization who reside in Ohio by filing an application on behalf of the hippo plaintiffs in the Colombian lawsuit.
But last week, Judge Karen L. Litkovitz in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, recognized the hippos as legal persons in order to utilize a specific statute.
This U.S. statute allows anyone who is an “interested person” in foreign litigation to request permission from a federal court to take expert depositions in the U.S. in support of their foreign case.
Animals are allowed to be legal parties in court cases in Colombia.
The District Court’s decision is the first time this recognition has been applied to an animal in the U.S.
“Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of U.S. courts to recognize their rights impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections,” Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells said in a statement.
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