Benito the giraffe begins long journey for better weather in central Mexico


Conditions at Ciudad Juárez zoo on US-Mexico border not suitable so container takes Benito to conservation park 1,000 miles away

A giraffe named Benito has started a 50-hour road trip to leave behind the cold and loneliness of Mexico’s northern border city of Ciudad Juárez to find warmth – and maybe a mate – in his new home 2,000km (1,200 miles) to the south.

A campaign by animal rights activists won the four-year-old giraffe a transfer to an animal park in Puebla state in central Mexico, where he will join a group of resident giraffes and enjoy a more suitable climate.

It has been a long and lonesome road for Benito. Jealousy forced him to leave his home at a zoo in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa; he was taken last year to a city-run park in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, Texas, to lead a life alone.

With temperatures in Ciudad Juárez reaching as low as 39F (4C) on Monday, Benito set off in a crate strapped to the back of a flat-bed truck. He is a tall load, about 16ft (5m) high, and the roof of his crate can be lowered to pass under bridges.

Residents gathered to say goodbye late Sunday in Ciudad Juárez as a crane lifted the container holding the giraffe onto the truck in preparation for the journey. “We love you, Benito,” some of them shouted.

“We’re a little sad that he’s leaving, but it also gives us great pleasure … The weather conditions are not suitable for him,” said Flor Ortega, 23.

Benito is being transported across Mexico to Africam Safari park in central Puebla state where the low temperatures are about 20 degrees warmer than in Ciudad Juárez.

More importantly, Benito may finally find a mate: there will be three female giraffes at his new home.

Environmental groups had voiced strong complaints about conditions faced by Benito at the city-run Central Park zoo in Ciudad Juárez, where weather in the summer is brutally hot and temperatures plunge during the winter.

Benito originally came from a zoo in the much more temperate climate of Sinaloa, a state on Mexico’s northern Pacific coast. Benito couldn’t stay with the two other giraffes there because they were a couple, and zookeepers feared the male would become territorial and attack the younger Benito.

So he was donated to Ciudad Juárez. In the summer there, he had little shade in his half-acre (0.2 hectare) enclosure; photos showed him crouching to fit under a small, circular shade canopy in the summer. In the winter, ice sometimes formed in the enclosure’s pond. There were few trees for him to munch on.

The container specially designed to transport Benito is more than 5m high. The giraffe was allowed to become familiar with it during the weekend, said Frank Carlos Camacho, the director of the Africam Safari park.

In a video update posted on Monday, Camacho said: “He’s ready to be a giraffe. He will reproduce soon, and contribute to the conservation of this wonderful species.”