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Beloved Asian elephant Packy dies at Oregon Zoo

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Oregon Zoo officials said the decision to euthanize Packy came following a lengthy search for alternative treatment options after test results last fall indicated the elephant was suffering from a drug-resistant strain of TB.

COURTESY PHOTO: MICHAEL DURHAM/OREGON ZOO - Packy, the Oregon Zoo's 54-year-old Asian elephant, was euthanized Thursday, Feb. 9, after battling a strain of drug-resistant TB.Packy, the Oregon Zoo's oldest male Asian elephant, was euthanized Thursday, Feb. 9, after fighting a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.

Packy was 54. He was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years.

"We loved Packy so much," said Bob Lee, who oversees the zoo elephant program and worked with Packy for the past 17 years. "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."

Oregon Zoo officials said the decision to euthanize Packy came following a lengthy search for alternative treatment options after test results last fall indicated the elephant was suffering from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.

"We'd run out of options for treating him," said Tim Storms, the zoo's lead veterinarian. "The remaining treatments involved side effects that would have been very hard on Packy with no guarantee of success, plus a risk of creating further resistance. None of us felt it would be right to do that. But without treatment, his TB would have continued to get worse. We consulted other experts — veterinarians and pharmacists — and a lot of people were involved in this decision, but that didn't make it any easier. Anybody who's had a sick or elderly pet knows how painful this can be, even if you know it's the best thing for the animal."

"This is a tremendous loss for the entire community," said Don Moore, zoo director. "Packy was one of the most famous animals in the world, but to the people who live here, the people who grew up with him, he was family."

He 'started it all'

Packy arrived shortly before 6 a.m. on April 14, 1962, earning international attention, including an 11-page feature in Life magazine. He would become one of the best-known animals in the world — inspiring books, records, Rose Parade floats — and much of what we now know about elephant care can be traced to him.

In the late 1950s, the zoo's first veterinarian, Matthew Maberry, was part of a team working to design facilities that provided elephants with much more freedom than was common in zoos at the time. These facilities, built in 1960, allowed for normal social interactions and natural breeding among the elephants, which led to a string of successful pregnancies and births over the next two decades. From the time of Packy's birth in 1962 to his daughter Shine's birth in 1982, more than 75 percent of the Asian elephants born in North America — 21 out of 27 — were born in Portland.

Packy's spirit is said to live on in the personality of his daughter Shine, as well as in the zoo's state-of-the-art Elephant Lands habitat, the design of which he helped inspire. "Packy's birth started it all," Lee said.

A memorial for Packy will be announced as soon as plans are completed. Until then, people can offer condolences or share favorite memories of him on the zoo's Facebook page.