Chasing hippos
Dec 9, 2021
Season 5 | Episode 9

Chasing hippos

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Gina Serna dreamed of being a wildlife veterinarian since she was little, but her biggest assignment has painful ties to her childhood.

Gina Serna’s life has been shaped around one very big coincidence.

She’s a wildlife veterinarian who’s helping to lead Colombia’s effort to sterilize the roughly 120 hippos roaming the Magdalena River. The hippos can weigh up to 9,000 pounds and run 30 miles an hour. They can kill people and destroy ecosystems they’re not native to — like Colombia’s.

“So for me, hippos also are, um, I don’t know how to say it, but they have given me a little bit of, um, fame,” Serna said. “I’m the lady of the hippos.”

Serna is constantly in the spotlight as she carries out her work because these aren’t just any hippos. They belonged to Pablo Escobar, once the most notorious drug kingpin in the country. He smuggled all kinds of exotic animals to his estate, and when police killed him in 1993, the hippos stayed and multiplied.

But Serna never really set out to become the “hippo lady.” She dreamed of being a wildlife veterinarian since she was little, but her career is all tied up in a painful childhood trauma. 

On this week’s show, we’ll look at how she and the hippos both got here. It’s a bizarre story about a life come full circle.

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