By MARK STEVENSON
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A campaign to save Benito the giraffe from extreme temperatures and a small enclosure in Mexico’s arid northern border city of Ciudad Juarez has finally paid off, with officials promising to move him to a more spacious animal park 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) to the south.
Benito arrived in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, in May 2023 as a 3-year-old, and since then has had to put up with the scorching desert sun with just a small patch of shade, as well as the winter cold and winds.
“Right now he’s suffering from the winter weather,” said Ana Félix, a Ciudad Juarez animal rights activist whose group “We Are Your Voice” led the fight to find a better home for Benito. “These winds of 25 miles per hour (40 kph) are what are really affecting the health and life of the giraffe now.”
It can’t come a minute too soon for Benito. Temperatures in Ciudad Juarez were forecast to drop to 25 degrees (-4 Celsius) on Monday, for example.
The government of the northern state of Chihuahua on Monday confirmed it had reached an agreement to transfer Benito to the Africam Safari park in the central state of Puebla because “the well-being of Benito is the priority.”
Africam operates a safari-style park in which animals roam large enclosures, while visitors observe many of the species from their cars.
Félix said the decision was long overdue and came only after activists had mounted social media campaigns showing Benito crouching with only his head under a small, circular canopy for shade last summer.
The Attorney General’s Office for Environmental Protection, known by its Spanish initials as Profepa, wrote that it had taken administrative possession of the giraffe and that he would remain where he was until several days of paperwork were completed for the transfer.
“Fortunately Africam Safari has agreed to take him, and now it’s only a matter of Profepa hurrying up and issuing the paperwork needed to transfer this giraffe,” Félix said.
Africam Safari Director Frank Carlos Camacho said in a video that his reserve “is ready to receive him,” but noted that moving an animal the size of a giraffe across the country “is a complicated thing.”
“Moving him from Chihuahua to Puebla is going to be a long move,” Camacho said.
Félix said authorities finally took action “late, but still in time.”
At Ciudad Juarez’s city-run Central Park, Benito had a small shed for winter, but activists said it was cruel to keep the giraffe in a small fenced enclosure, by himself, with only about a half acre to wander and few trees to nibble, in a climate he’s not used to.
The park also built a larger sun canopy for the giraffe and dredged out garbage and fetid water from a pool that took up much of the enclosure.
By June, Benito appeared to have just about finished off the only small trees within his reach at Central Park and could do little more than walk in circles.
Benito’s presence had been important in boosting the park’s popularity among visitors, largely children. Monthly visits rose from about 140,000 before Benito arrived to 200,000 after.
Benito was donated by a zoo in the much more temperate climate of Sinaloa, a state on Mexico’s northern Pacific coast. Benito couldn’t stay with two other giraffes at the Sinaloa zoo because they were a couple, and the male could become territorial and attack the younger Benito.
The giraffe’s arrival was a point of pride for Ciudad Juarez, a tough, dusty city across from El Paso, Texas, that is best known for its hundreds of maquiladora assembly factories and its endemic gang violence.
Central Park also holds a few other animal species like ducks and donkeys, but Félix wants those rehoused, as well.
“Benito is leaving, but we are going to continue fighting to get all the animals out of that place,” she said. “It is not an adequate place for animals, it is just a plain old regular public park.”