The next step, getting them to Mexico, turned out not to be that difficult. Camacho successfully navigated through two government bureaucracies. He chartered a plane big enough for his precious cargo.
Getting them onto the plane was another matter.
“It would have been much harder if they were adults,” said Cecilia Geiger, a spokeswoman for Africam Safari. The elephants obediently boarded on their own, with Big Boy leading the smaller ones up a ramp and into the cargo bay, where the elephants were put in big crates.
Camacho accompanied them, listening to the elephant chatter as they crossed the Atlantic.
“We could all feel that they had a special connection,” he said.
During a reporter’s visit Friday, the herd looked happy enough, playing outside in a huddle near a muddy watering pool, tossing sand with their skinny trunks, their white tusk buds barely visible. Eventually, those buds could grow into 8-foot long tusks. The elephants will grow two times their current size.
“Elephants can do just fine on their own as long as people can substitute for other elephants,” said Ted Friend, professor of animal behavior at Texas A&M University. In captivity, a human trainer usually takes on the necessary role of the female elephant, he said.
As for the nine elephants at Camacho’s zoo, Friend sees no problem with their environment. “It’ll be a little different than what they would have had in the wild, but in a situation where they’re controlled by people, then I don’t see a problem.”
While the Namibian government said the elephants are not orphans, and did not grow up in the wild, their origins remain a mystery. It isn’t clear where the elephants’ parents are, or even if any of the nine are related.
There is only one way to find out, Camacho said. He pointed at his elephants.
“You have to ask them,” he said.
Associated Press writer Armando Montano reported this story in Puebla and Emoke Bebiak reported from Johannesburg, South Africa.