Archive for animals

R.I.P. Packy

Packy as newborn

Packy as newborn

Sad news from the Oregon Zoo. Packy, Portland’s star pachyderm, was euthanized today after all efforts to relieve him of the effects of a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis failed. He was 54.

His birth on April 14,1962 made international news because he was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years. The fuzzy little fellow (a mere 150 pounds at birth) became every Portland child’s favorite animal and from 1963 on, his birthday party at the zoo was well attended, sometimes by thousands of kids and adults.

Everyone wore elephant ears, including the elephant, and everyone got cake, including the elephant. In fact, Packy’s annual birthday cake was a major production. With carrots instead of candles and made with elephant-healthy ingredients (e.g., peanut butter instead of frosting), the culinary creation was placed in the elephants’ outdoor area by someone who then had to run for his life before the seven-ton bull elephant was released.

As Packy’s trunk made the first swipe across the surface of the cake, a live band would begin to play “Happy Birthday” and all the zoo visitors sang the song.

Packy at 52

Packy at 52

In 1995 I wrote about Packy’s 33rd birthday for the Leisure & Arts Page of The Wall Street Journal. I had proposed the article several weeks before the birthday event, but my beloved editor, Ray Sokolov, didn’t see the humor in an elephant birthday party and he turned me down. What I resorted to was something I had learned as a child: if one parent turns you down, ask the other.

Ray had to go out of town and he turned over the editing of the page to a deputy. I pitched the same story to him and he told me to go for it. By the time Ray returned to the office, my article, “Seven Tons of Birthday Fun,” had already been assigned, written and published.

Fortunately, Ray was pleased that I’d gone around him in order to write the story, which he had really enjoyed. He ended up complimenting me on my trunk, er, nose for news.

(With thanks for the photos and condolences to the staff of the Oregon Zoo.)