Notable Oregonians: Packy - Zoo Elephant
Packy put Portland on the map in 1962 when he made international news for being the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in over 44 years. Packy's parents were Thonglaw and Belle. Thonglaw was wild-born in Cambodia in 1947 and Belle was wild-born in Bangkok in 1952. Thonglaw died in 1974 and Belle died in 1997.
Portlanders first learned of Belle's pregnancy and the impending birth through an article in The Oregonian newspaper in January, and the city came alive with anticipation. "Belle Bulletins" and a "Name the Baby" contest were aired by local radio stations. Stuffed elephants appeared in toy departments and school children made drawings of what they thought the baby would look like. For three months zoo veterinarian Dr. Matthew Maberry literally lived in the elephant house, keeping a close watch on the maternity ward.
The big event happened at 5:58 a.m. on April 14, and the news about the 225-pound baby spread rapidly. Newspapers and radio stations around the world announced the birth to readers and listeners, and Life magazine covered the event with an eleven-page spread. Baby gifts flooded the zoo, everything from gold-plated safety pins to hand-knitted garments. Visitors flocked to see the new pachyderm and attendance soared, setting an all-time high.
Packy was one of the the oldest and largest Asian elephant in the United States. He stood 10'6" at the shoulder and weighed about 12,600 pounds. Over the years, the Oregon Zoo became noted for its prolific Asian elephants. Over two dozen calves have been born at the zoo, with fifteen sired by Thonglaw and seven by Packy. According to the Oregon Zoo, Packy was the only second-generation captive bull to breed successfully in world zoo history.
Packy's birthdays were celebrated with much fanfare. He seemed to enjoy being the star of the show during his 50th birthday celebration in 2012.
Over the years, several animal rights groups claimed that Packy and other elephants at the Oregon Zoo should have been released to a sanctuary because of inadequate facilities at the zoo. The zoo opened Elephant Lands, a new elephant habitat, in 2015.
Packy was euthanized in 2017 at the age of 54 after a recurring illness.