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Benito the giraffe leaves his shabby park for a better home in southern Mexico

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A 4-year-old giraffe named Benito now has a new home. Benito's living conditions in a shabby park in the Mexican border city of Juarez had created a public outcry. Well, today, Benito arrived at a warmer, more spacious home at a wildlife preserve in southern Mexico. As Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP reports, animal protection advocates on both sides of the border are celebrating.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: Benito's departure attracted a large crowd Sunday night as people gathered to bid the giraffe farewell.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: A woman in the crowd wished him a long and happy life.

Since his arrival last May, the park has been the center of controversy and the site of protests. Animal advocates said it did not provide proper shelter or veterinary care. Ana Felix is leader of the group Salvemos a Benito, or Save Benito.

ANA FELIX: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: She calls Benito's departure an unforgettable date.

For months now, the organization has fought to relocate the giraffe using public pressure, a petition drive and a social media campaign.

Frank Carlos Camacho, head of African Safari, showed off the cameras in the climate-controlled crate on a flatbed truck used to transport Benito more than 1,200 miles to the wildlife preserve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK CARLOS CAMACHO: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: At his new home in the state of Puebla, Benito will have a lot more space to roam and a proper diet, including acacia tree leaves. It's warmer, and he'll get proper care from wildlife experts. It'll be a sharp contrast to the park in the city of Juarez, where he had a flimsy shelter from winter's freezing cold and no shade in the blistering summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAMACHO: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Camacho detailed the giraffe's journey on social media for thousands of followers who care about Benito. El Paso, Texas, animal advocate Laura Sanchez.

LAURA SANCHEZ: I think that's a great lesson for all of us, too - you know? - that the more of us that are united in helping these animals - obviously they don't have a voice, so we have to be their voice.

KOCHERGA: Benito's relocation is celebrated as a hard-fought victory for Mexico's fledgling animal protection movement. Among the seven other giraffes at the park are three females. It's now expected Benito will find a mate, reproduce and help preserve this vulnerable species.

For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF J. COLE SONG, "FORBIDDEN FRUIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.