6 Animals Beloved by Crazy Drug Lords

A tiger sniffing a branch

Neil Turner / Flickr

Federal drug enforcement agencies have been busy in recent decades as the drug war exploded in countries like Mexico. Large parts of the country are effectively in the control of drug barons, giving them the confidence to build grand and large. A private zoo plays to the vanity of a high-level drug dealer — what better way to show your dominance than with cages full of lions, jaguars, and tigers in the backyard? A tiger is infinitely more impressive than a gold-plated 9 mm handgun.

When police and federal agents do take down the homes of drug lords, they stand a decent chance of finding private zoo facilities. We've done a survey of news reports and compiled the following list of animals that your average crazy drug lord would love.

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Peacocks

Photo: Mathias Appel/Flickr [CC by 1.0]

Peacocks are an ancient Christian symbol of eternal life so it's an obvious choice for a drug lord, a job with many unavoidable inherent dangers. The bird is beautiful, striking, powerful and relatively inexpensive, at least compared to something like a giraffe. When Mexican drug kingpin Jesus "The King" Zambada was arrested, his ranch and private zoo were confiscated. His peacock found a new home and has settled into a new life at the Zacango Zoo in Toluca, Mexico.

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Hippos

Photo: Matt Biddulph/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Hippos became one of the best known drug lord favorites after four of Pablo Escobar's hippos escaped from his lavish private zoo and established a small colony in the rivers of Colombia near the drug lord's former 7,000-acre estate. The hippopotamus is native to Africa and is a large and powerful animal that spends its days in the water and evenings grazing on land. They are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in the world and regularly attack people who wander into their range. It's no surprise why such an animal would be attractive to a drug kingpin.

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Lions

Photo: cooljeans56/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Lions are another obvious choice for your average drug lord's private zoo. Lions are the ultimate hunters, the king of the wild, top feline of the savannah. If there is an ideal in the wild kingdom for someone in the narcotics manufacturing, transportation and marketing industry to emulate, it's the lion. Lions sit at the top of the food chain and employ ferocious strength to maintain order and enforce domination. Zoos in Mexico are overwhelmed by the number of lions that federal agents are confiscating from private drug lord zoos — one has to wonder if they're not becoming too popular. I mean, if all your drug lord friends have lions, what's so special about getting a few yourself?

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Elephants

Photo: Mandy Goldberg/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Can you sense the theme building? Drug lords like beautifully unique animals and animals that can tear your face off, or in this case, that can stomp you head flat. They're big, they're expensive, and, with a little bit of training, can do double duty intimidating your enemies.

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Tigers

Photo: Steve Walker/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Tigers are the purrfect pet for a privately stocked zoo. They share all the ferocious features of the lion but are a little more solitary than their feline cousins, something a sensitive drug lord can appreciate (because he doesn't have real friends). In a nationwide sweep conducted by Mexican authorities in July 2011, more than 5,500 illegal animals and plants were seized from drug traffickers. It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to envision some poor cartel underling tossed into a tiger pit after he displeased his boss.

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Jaguars

Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Jaguars were another favorite animal of Pablo Escobar. The lithe and muscular spotted cat is a fearsome predator native to Central America and the southern portion of North America. They are a threatened species and suffer from habitat loss from human activity. They've also become a favorite animal for drug kingpins and their zoos. One raid on a drug mansion in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood uncovered two black jaguars, two lions, two Bengal tigers and a monkey, all well-fed and likely cared for by a personal veterinarian.