Portland’s Elephant Lands habitat will continue to be the cornerstone of the zoo especially since there are other elephants that currently call the zoo home but when it comes to Packy, he will be hard to replace and the remaining elephants at the zoo still don’t know that he’s gone yet.
Thanks to Packy, the Elephant Lands habitat was created from a 2008 Portland bond measure and the zoo was able to learn a lot more about elephants than they already did by observing Packy during the golden years of his life.
Packy’s trainer, Bob Lee, was optimistic as early as 2015 that the beloved elephant would beat tuberculosis but unfortunately, Packy would lose his battle.
He has been separated from the herd since his most recent bout with tuberculosis. In 2013, he and two other elephants were diagnosed with the disease but they all beat it. However, in 2016, Packy’s illness came back and this time was resistant to all drugs.
“We were hoping to get him back in in December,” Lee said, “but we had a positive culture of TB, meaning the bacteria was growing again after several months of really good treatment we thought.”
At that point, Packy’s caregivers knew they would have to make some tough decisions.
“We went through a process for several months, of talking to internal stakeholders,” Lee said. “We talked to outside experts, trying to find what was in the best interest of Packy.”
Lee said they reached out to experts around the country. Ultimately, they concluded that euthanasia was the only option.
“He has a chronic disease,” Lee said. “We didn’t think the treatment would work for him.”
“Everybody that works with him here had time to say goodbye to him,” Lee added.
There were tears in Lee’s eyes when he spoke about the elephant that he has worked with since Sept. 16, 1999. Lee remembered the exact date he started working with Packy because he was so excited, he tried to start a week early. The zoo told him to come back on the right day.
Lee said that while Packy was a massive bull elephant, he had a sweet side.
“He was also nervous and shy and took a while to get used to new things,” Lee told us. “He was just an amazing … almost a person.”
Visitors to the zoo on Thursday remembered Packy from even further back.
Bonnie Clement was at the zoo with her daughter and grandchildren. She remembers when Packy was born. “I was five years old and in kindergarten,” she said. “It was a big deal.”
Clement also teared up when she remembered the role that Packy played in her young life.
“We studied elephants in school because of that,” she told us, “and then in first grade, we went on a field trip to come see Packy.”