Colombia prepares to move Pablo Escobar's 'cocaine hippos' to Mexico and India

Authorities in Colombia have said they are making progress with the transfer of 70 of Pablo Escobar's 'cocaine hippos' to Mexico and India.

Since the drug lord's death in 1993, the animals have been left to roam freely in a hot, marshy area of Antioquia, in the north west of the country.

Environmental authorities have been struggling to curb their numbers, which now stand at least 150.

They have spread beyond Escobar's former ranch of Hacienda Napoles, where they grew from a population of just one male and three females.

Escobar brought a small number of the African hippos to Colombia in the late 1980s.

Authorities said they plan to capture and transport almost half of the hippos in the coming months.

The plans will form part of a deal that the local Antioquia government signed with institutions such as the Colombian Agricultural Institute, the Colombian Air Force and the Ostok Sanctuary in Mexico.

Ten of the hippos will be taken to the Ostok Sanctuary in northern Mexico and 60 will be transported to as-yet unnamed facility in India. They are not being taken back to their native Africa as it could impact the ecosystem.

'The whole operation should cost around $3.5 million,' Ernesto Zazueta, owner of the Ostok Sanctuary, told reporters.

He and the governor of Antioquia, Anibel Gaviria, said they plan to use bait to herd the animals into their pens before they are placed in special crates for transportation.

Colombia had attempted a sterilisation program to curb the population but it was unsuccessful.

The environment ministry declared the hippos an invasive species last year.

The population of the cocaine hippos has rocketed despite efforts by the authorities to address the issue, such as castration and using contraceptive dart 'shots'.

Escobar had built up a collection of exotic wildlife in the 1980s at his ranch in the municipality of Puerto Triunfo, around 250 kilometres from MedellĂ­n.

After his death, authorities relocated most of the animals but it was too difficult to transport the hippos.

The surge in numbers has seen them branch out across the Magdalena River basin.

Research has shown that the hippos pose a threat to agriculture and humans in the area. Hippo waste can alter oxygen levels in bodies of water, which can lower the water quality and cause mass fish deaths.

After the Ministry of Environment issues 'hippo passports,' the transportation process can begin. It is expected to happen by the end of the first semester of the year, the statement read.

'We're looking to save the lives of hippos, but also to protect the lives of people in the Magdalena Medio region,' Gaviria said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Zoos in Ecuador and Philippines have also expressed an interest in transferring some of the hippos.