The Oregon Zoo’s most famous pachyderm, Packy, was euthanized earlier this month after a long battle with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.
Packy made headlines during the Kennedy era for being the first elephant born in captivity in 44 years. It was a title that garnered worldwide celebrity — and even a hit single called “Packy, the Baby Elephant.”
At 54 years old, Packy was the oldest male Asian elephant in North America when he died.
His memorial took place in a big tent just outside of the zoo’s new elephant exhibit — a $57 million project finished in the summer of 2015.
Debbie Choruby was born in Portland just a few years before Packy. She watched the elephant grow up and got emotional remembering his move into the long-awaited new elephant enclosure.
“I think he just waited around, just to see it was done,” Choruby said.
Her 10-year-old granddaughter Skylar was also at the zoo for the memorial.
“She takes me here a lot,” Skylar said. “We like to check out the elephants.”
While many, like the Chorubys, were at the zoo to celebrate Packy’s life, others came to the memorial to protest the elephant’s conditions while he lived.
Bala Seshasayee, a volunteer with an organization called Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants, said elephants belong in the wild or in sanctuaries — not in zoos.
“I’m not going to say the zoo’s entirely bad,” Seshasayee said. “They’re doing good work with respect to native species … And that should be their focus. Not an elephant, which is a tropical animal that’s being brought to the Pacific Northwest and being made to suffer here for our entertainment — and nothing else.”
Asian elephants are native throughout Asia, where they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years. Historically, they’ve been employed in the realms of agriculture, warfare, and even execution.
Today, Asian elephants are considered an endangered species. As few as 40,000 remain in their native range.
During his lifetime, Packy was the subject of a number of studies that lead to scientific breakthroughs in human understandings of Asian elephants, including how they mate and communicate.