The cover of the May 11, 1962, edition of Life magazine featured Bob Hope and proclaimed a "Brilliant Evening at the White House." John F. Kennedy was president. And inside was an 11-page story heralding the birth of a 225-pound Asian elephant at Portland's Oregon Zoo. That elephant -- named Packy -- has earned the endearment of Portland, our nation, and the world.
Early in the morning, on Thursday, February 9, 54-years after that Life magazine article, the animal care professionals at Oregon Zoo said goodbye to this wonderful creature. In doing so, they made what was certainly one of the most difficult and painful decisions possible for the very people who had been giving him care for decades. The top-notch staff at Oregon Zoo wrestled with the very delicate balance between quality of life for Packy, herd health and safety, as well as safety for zoo employees and visitors.
Convening a team of experts, Oregon Zoo officials worked to assess these three areas and concluded it was time to say goodbye. For the staff and volunteers at Oregon Zoo who have cared for Packy since his birth there, in 1962, and the citizens of Portland, Thursday was a very tough and sad day. All of us in the zoological community are sharing their sadness.
Bob Lee, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s elephant program and worked with Packy for the past 17 years said:
“We loved Packy so much. He was my favorite — the most impressive animal I’ve ever known. It’s hard to think about coming in to work tomorrow and not seeing him. There will never be another like him.”
Packy was suffering from an active, drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. They searched for a solution and found no viable treatment options for him. Without treatment, the disease would continue to get worse, as would his quality of life.
So, the zoo made the very difficult, but appropriate, decision that his last day would not be his worst day. And while we are all sad, it is also important to remember the incredible contributions Packy had on our knowledge about elephants.
As Oregon Zoo Director Don Moore recently noted:
“It’s hard to overstate the impact [Packy’s] birth and life had on global elephant knowledge. So much of what we know about elephant care and welfare we learned from Packy, his offspring and his family. The length of elephant gestation was discovered as Packy’s mom Belle went through her pregnancy. Dr. Katy Payne was listening to Packy and his family when she first discovered the “silent thunder” that is elephant communication by infrasound. Other research here with Packy and his family group has advanced our knowledge about elephant biology and research methods in other ways.”
He was a true ambassador between us and his species. If there was a Nobel Prize for elephants, Packy would have won it.
Packy is also a reminder to all who care for animals that we must strive to provide the best animal care and wellness possible. The Oregon Zoo convened the best minds in veterinary medicine to decide on the care for Packy. He deserved no less. This is extraordinary, for sure, but typical of facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Packy will forever be an icon to the Portland community who loved him, and to the thousands who visited him over the years.
If you are interested in learning more about what AZA members are doing to help endangered Asian elephants in the wild through the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® program, please visit https://www.aza.org/safe-asian-elephant.
By Dan Ashe, AZA President & CEO