THE BUZZ: Windmills, wax palms and randy hippos

By Steve Hide November 12, 2019

The Buzz: Our regular roundup of what the world has picked up on Colombia.

The Buzz: Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos are multiplying in the Río Magdalena and might number 200 within 20 years.
The Buzz: Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos are multiplying in the Río Magdalena and might number 200 within 20 years. Photo: Unsplash

Cheap shot

A secret energy shot for Colombia’s pro cyclists was revealed by The Guardian, and perhaps not what we expected either. Step forward the humble bocadillo de guayaba, that sugary snack stacked on shelves in every supermarket. The ‘guava jellies’ have been boosting the likes of Quintana and Bernal for years, and now recommended for all endurance athletes as a cheaper, more natural alternative to hi-tech energy gels.

Hip-population boom

Yes, they’re back in the news, and in The Economist no less. Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos are multiplying in the Río Magdalena and might number 200 within 20 years. The magazine suggested the easiest way to deal with the African mammals was the ‘way Escobar did with people who got in his way’. Fortunately for the randy beasts they are now protected by a court order. Scientists are now working on creating a new ‘hippo-specific’ contraceptive.

Hope for waxy palms

The race to protect the remarkable Quindío wax palm, Colombia’s national tree, makes for fascinating reading in the New York Times. It reports on the discovery of 500,000 wax palms tucked away by the Río Tochecito, formerly a guerrilla strong-hold. To put it in perspective, there are only 2,000 palms left in Salento, their most photographed location. Scientists are now battling cattle farmers and gold miners to preserve the new find. Those waxy palms aren’t out of the woods yet.

Uber and out, round two?

Uber stories seem almost as ubiquitous as Pablo’s hippos. Last edition [PDF Link?] we reported on ‘ride-hailing app’ drivers facing 25-year licence bans (the law has since been loosened). Now Reuters reports that Uber is pulling the plug on a planned US$40 million ‘support and safety centre’ that could have created 600 jobs in Colombia, citing Uber’s lack of regulatory stability. Uber claims it has two million clients and 88,000 drivers in Colombia. But it is technically illegal. And still not out.

Halting Alzheimer’s

Colombia’s contribution to Alzheimer’s research is covered by Science magazine. With longer-living populations, combatting the degenerative brain disease is now a medical holy grail. For years Colombian boffins have been studying extended families in Antioquia who carry a gene that throws up a tragic early-onset dementia (they develop symptoms in their late 40s). Now a Medellín woman – one of the high-risk group – is being studied by scientists in the US for her genetic resistance to the disease. Further research might eventually unlock a cure for us all.

Go with the wind 

As the rest of the world attempts to wean itself off fossil fuels, Colombia is eyeing up rich oil reserves off its Caribbean coast, relates the Financial Times. With its reserves expected to run dry in just seven years, the national hydrocarbons agency (ANH) is drooling over a possible six billion barrels worth of oil buried under the seabed. 

Related: THE BUZZ, Colombian news in international media from previous months

Better news for the planet is the possibility of windmill and solar power projects in La Guajira, the poor department in the far-flung north-east corner of the country. Double-average airflow and high solar radiation make it a potential powerhouse for renewables. Last week the government laid plans for five wind farms to come on line there in 2022. Let’s hope they’re not blowing smoke.