Most of the facts that we hear about history's most notorious dictators involve their crimes against humanity and horrific political manipulations. These can be so extensive that it's almost shocking when you learn that many of these dictators actually loved animals - at least their animals. After all, how can a monster like Adolph Hitler, who devised the Holocaust, have so much love in his blackened heart for his pet German Shepherd, Blondi? And Hitler isn't the only dictator who loved his pets. Some dictators had the types of pets one might expect them to have - like cats and dogs. However, some of the wilder dictator pets include hippos, ostriches, and even man-eating crocodiles.
Pablo Escobar, the former Colombian drug baron who was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 people, also caused Colombia to be totally overrun with hippos. How did this happen? Well, one of the ways that Escobar chose to spend his fortune was by building a large zoo containing giraffes, elephants, and hippos - all of which were smuggled into Colombia from Africa. After Escobar's estate, Hacienda Nápoles, was commandeered in the 1990s, most of the animals were sent to various zoos - however, finding homes for the hippos proved to be impossible. So, for the past two decades, they have been living in Colombia's waters, wandering around the local towns, and having lots and lots of hippo babies.
While there have been no fatalities associated with Escobar's hippos or their descendants, hippos are notoriously dangerous animals and many of the locals don't feel safe around them. Some of the babies have since been transported to zoos, but no one wants to take in the adults. They also can't be returned to their natural environment in Africa, as they might be carrying new diseases.
Some Colombian officials have suggested sterilizing the adults to prevent population growth, while others have suggested killing them and using their meat for food.
- Birthplace: Rionegro, Colombia
- Nationality: Colombia
Muammar al-Gaddafi seized control over the Libyan government in 1969 and ruled as an authoritarian dictator until he was finally overthrown in 2011. During his reign, he decided to create a personal animal farm, containing over 500 ostriches, rare-breed camels, hybrid cattle, and many different breeds of sheep and goats. Then, when al-Gaddafi was overthrown, he left all of these animals behind to fend for themselves, many of them dying from starvation or heat exhaustion.
Ironically, some of the people who stepped in to try to care for al-Gaddafi's animals were actually his political enemies. Other helpers included Belgasem Al Sosi, a veterinarian, and Mohamad Al Majdoub, a man with a doctorate in international relations who felt that caring for these animals would help pave the way to a freer Libya.
- Birthplace: Qasr Abu Hadi
- Nationality: Libya
Kim Jong-il, the dictator of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011, is well-known for having lived a lavish lifestyle, which offended many people given the fact that many North Koreans were so poor under his regime that they had to find their meals in trash cans. For instance, his pet dogs were given twenty kilograms of fresh beef every day, while the dog handlers were sent to labor camps when they were caught stealing even small amounts of beef for themselves.
Later, Kim Jon-il's son, Kim Jong-un, made a series of confusing proclamations involving dogs. First, he referred to dog meat as a superfood in an attempt to boost its consumption; then, shortly after, he opened up a dog zoo pavilion in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. While the zoo does contain lots of wild species such as elephants and hippos, the dogs - particularly Western breeds like St Bernard’s, schnauzers, and German shepherds - are the star attractions.
- Birthplace: Vyatskoye, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia
- Nationality: North Korea
- Photo: Atlas Obscura
Viewed by some as a revolutionary hero and by others as a ruthless dictator, Fidel Castro remains a complex and polarizing figure. While most people know at least a little bit about his political exploits, most people don't know about his attempt at breeding super cows to solve Cuba's milk shortage. The shortage was of particular concern to Castro, who loved dairy products so much that he drank milkshakes daily and was known to eat up to 26 scoops of ice cream at a clip. His love for milk was so well-known that a political enemy even tried to poison one of his milkshakes.
Because of his personal need for dairy products, Castro commissioned a group of scientists to breed a super cow that could produce exceptional amounts of milk. While nearly all of their attempts failed, there was one success in the form of a cow named Ubre Blanca, or White Udder. Ubre Blanca was a cross between a Holstein and a Cebu cow, and she was able to produce four times as much milk as a regular cow. Because of her prodigious output, Castro spoiled her rotten.
She lived in a luxury, air-conditioned stable, where she listened to soothing music and received round-the-clock care. Despite his usual paranoia, Castro couldn't resist showing her off to journalists and visiting dignitaries. When she died, he commissioned a portrait to be painted of her, which was hung in the National Library.
- Birthplace: Birán, Cuba
- Nationality: Cuba