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Animal rights activists want a giraffe at the U.S.-Mexico border to be moved

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

There's another fight along the U.S.-Mexico border, and it's not about migration. It's about a giraffe named Benito who's living in a public park in the Mexican border city of Juarez. Reporter Angela Kocherga with member station KTEP explains.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Spanish).

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: On a sweltering summer day, little girls call out to Benito, and the giraffe ambles over looking for a snack. Erasmo Castaneda (ph) uses the opportunity to take a photo of his two daughters with the giraffe.

ERASMO CASTANEDA: There's a lot of people talking about Benito.

KOCHERGA: Benito's life here at Parque Central in Juarez has become the center of controversy. Animal protection advocates in Mexico and the United States say Benito does not have adequate shelter or care. They're demanding he be moved to an established zoo or wildlife sanctuary. Ana Felix heads an animal protection group in Juarez.

ANA FELIX: (Through interpreter) We want Benito to leave this park, but while our movement for that continues, we're asking for better conditions now.

KOCHERGA: Felix and other animal rights groups say Benito's enclosure does not have enough shade or vegetation. There's a tall, very narrow building made of sheetrock that serves as a shelter and a long pole with what looks like a tattered umbrella that barely covers the top of the giraffe's head.

FELIX: (Through interpreter) We want trained experts and veterinarians on-site. There's nobody here with knowledge of an animal of this size.

KOCHERGA: Just across the border in El Paso, Texas, Laura Sanchez (ph) shares those concerns.

LAURA SANCHEZ: It doesn't have the facilities nor the staff to take care of the giraffe.

KOCHERGA: Sanchez usually collects donated supplies for animal rescue groups in Juarez that help stray dogs and cats. Now she's trying to find Benito a new home.

SANCHEZ: Transferring him into a much better location either in the U.S. or Mexico. It doesn't matter to us at this point. It's just somewhere better for him.

KOCHERGA: But park administrator, Rogelio Munoz, balks at the idea of relocating Benito. He responded to questions about the giraffe's care by phone.

ROGELIO MUNOZ: (Through interpreter) We have permission and the proper conditions to house that type of animal.

KOCHERGA: Munoz says the park has new funding, the equivalent of about $60,000 to improve Benito's habitat, including the giraffe's shelter.

MUNOZ: (Through interpreter) We're going to make his house bigger. We're going to make it double the size.

KOCHERGA: But Munoz is an administrator and has no training in wildlife management. Benito replaced another beloved giraffe at the park named Modesto, who died last year. This border city is perhaps best known for its sprawling factories and cartel violence, but the city is trying to improve the quality of life here. Juarez is also home to Mexico's growing animal rights movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Over the summer, animal protection advocates chanted, save Benito, as they took to the streets in protest. There's also a social media campaign and petition drives on both sides of the border. Amid mounting public pressure, representatives of two federal agencies responsible for protecting wildlife in Mexico inspected Benito's enclosure this summer. A federal official says Benito can stay at the park for now, pending improvements to the giraffe's habitat. Juarez animal rescue group director Ana Felix says her coalition is skeptical.

FELIX: (Through interpreter) They must make a plan for short-, medium- and for his long-term care.

KOCHERGA: Park administrator Munoz says his next plan is to find a female giraffe to keep Benito company. Animal advocates say their likely next step is a lawsuit.

For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Angela Kocherga