Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’ have become the first animals legally ruled to be ‘people’ under US law, after a court recognised them as plaintiffs in an ongoing legal case.
The hippos have become a source of controversy in Colombia for their rampant breeding and destructive presence in the local ecosystem, with authorities currently forging ahead with plans to sterilise a number of the group.
The Colombian government announced last week that it had successfully sterilised 24 of the 100-strong bloat of hippos, however the program has seen a legal challenge mounted by US charity the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is arguing that a different contraceptive medicine with ‘historical success’ when used on captive hippos should be used.
According to The Telegraph, in Colombia it’s already accepted that animals can be considered plaintiffs in cases where their interests are at stake, but that’s never been the case in the US, where animals are legally recognised as property.
That changed this week, when the ALDF successfully petitioned a US court to recognise the Colombian cocaine hippos as ‘persons of interest’ in the case as part of its application to depose two US-based experts in ‘nonsurgical animal sterilisation’.
The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio agreed the ‘community of hippopotamuses living in the Magdalena River’ should be considered interested persons in the case, paving the way for the experts to give evidence in the Colombian case while on US soil.
Following the ruling, the ALDF said the case could mark a breakthrough in the fight for animal rights in the US.
The charity’s executive director Stephen Wells said:
The court’s order authorising the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the United States is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognise that animals have enforceable rights.
Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of US courts to recognise their rights [in other cases] impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections.
The so-called cocaine hippos were first imported into Colombia in the 1980s by Escobar, with four of the animals allowed to remain in a pond at his Hacienda Napoles ranch after the drug kingpin was killed by police in 1993. With no natural predators in the region the number of hippos has grown to more than 100, with a recent study suggesting the population could surpass 1,000 by 2040 if no action is taken.
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