Alejandra Osejo Varona

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Rice U.

Grant number

Gr. 10713

Approve Date

April 15, 2024

Project Title

Osejo Varona, Alejandra (Rice U.) "Hippos: Invasive Species and Environmental Governance in Colombia"

Forty years ago, four hippos were illegally imported to Colombia by drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. Today, this country hosts 169 hippos living in the Magdalena River, where scientists and policymakers treat them as invasive. This project investigates how hippos, a species declared vulnerable in Sub-Saharan Africa by the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2016, became designated as invasive in Colombia in 2022. Through participant observation, interviews, and archival research, this project analyzes how the signification and classification of hippos as invasive in Colombia is shaped by situated experiences and social judgments of harm, risk, and danger closely related to the country’s history of drug trafficking and armed conflict. I will analyze (1) How hippos and human beings interact in the river (2) How scientists and policymakers face the challenge of understanding these animals and predicting their distribution in the river (3) How animal advocates, judicial courts, and public officers develop legal strategies to deal with the hippo’s presence and care of the Magdalena River. This research will bring together conversations on environmental anthropology, the anthropology of knowledge, and environmental governance studies to examine complicated and uneasy human-animal encounters and reimagine interspecies entanglements in an age of planetary undoing.