Commemorating the life and legacy of Packy, Portland’s biggest celebrity, on the 55th anniversary of his birth.
When I was a little girl, Packy was the biggest celebrity in town – an international superstar even. But like most Portland kids who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, to me Packy was more than just our Zoo’s most famous resident – he was a member of the family.
Packy made his entrance into the world and the hearts of children everywhere on April 14, 1962, weighing in at a dainty 225 pounds. Packy was the first elephant born in captivity in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years; a status that garnered him, among other things, an 11-page spread in Life magazine, a song written for and dedicated to him, countless reproductions of his image on everything from coffee mugs to parade floats, and a life-time supply of pachyderm-sized, carrot-topped birthday cakes.
Packy’s birthday was exactly one month and one week before mine, so during the earliest years of my life, his city-wide celebration became my cue that my own birthday was just around the corner. I fondly remember going to the zoo as a child, elephant-shaped zoo-key in hand, and begging my grandpa for change to buy peanuts to toss to Packy and the other elephants. (Times do change, don’t they?) I had a little plastic Packy purse and a bright yellow Zoo-train whistle imprinted with his likeness. Over the years, Portland jubilantly welcomed each of Packy’s seven calves, beginning with Me-Tu – the world’s first baby elephant to be born from second-generation, zoo-born parents. (Sadly, Packy outlived all but one of his offspring: daughter Sung-Surin [“Shine“], born in 1982, still lives at the Oregon Zoo.) In fact, Packy was a constant in my world from the day I was born until, in a controversial move earlier this year, he was euthanized after failing to respond to treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis.
February 9, 2017 marked a profoundly sad day for everyone in the Rose City.
However, while his loss saddens our hearts, Packy left a great and enduring legacy – one that will ultimately continue to inspire and educate the Oregon Zoo’s 1.6 million annual visitors about elephant research and conservation for generations to come.
Elephant Lands: Preserving the Packy’s Legacy
About a year ago, Em and I had an opportunity to go to the opening of the new Elephant Lands at the Portland Zoo. As someone who has lived in this city for a very long time, I remember what the old elephant enclosure was like… (No, not the one you remember from a few years ago – that was a major improvement over the one I grew up visiting. I mean this one ↓ all stark, sterile, and barren.)
Recalling the not-so-good ol’ days, I was deeply heartened to see that, with the opening of Elephant Lands, these gentle giants finally have a home where they can live with a generous measure of joy and dignity.
Elephant Lands reflects the Zoo’s philosophy that all animals’ lives should be filled with choice. The new habitat includes time-released feeders, mud wallows, and plenty of water features – including a 160,000-gallon pool – all designed to encourage elephants to be active 14-16 hours a day, just as they would in their natural environment.
A thick covering of sand blankets the entire elephant habitat; (thankfully) a far cry from the unforgiving, often blistering cement floors of days gone by.
Indoor areas feature natural flooring and state-of-the-art heating and ventilation systems, and the herd can move inside and outside at will.
Forest Hall offers a spacious, inside viewing area, as well as an educational area that highlights the 5,000-year-old history of the human-elephant relationship around the world.
Together, the Elephant Building and Forest Hall form one of the largest indoor elephant facilities in the world.
VIDEO: Elephant Lands at the Oregon Zoo
I was so impressed by the new facility that I put together this short video ↓ of our visit. I hope you enjoy it!
If you live in or are planning to visit the Portland area, I encourage you to visit our Zoo soon. There’s always something new to see and learn. (If you stop by this summer, be sure to look around for Miss Em: she’ll be volunteering as a ZooTeen again this year.)