Famous elephant Packy is turning 51 at Oregon Zoo

April 9, 2013 - 3:28pm
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Elephantastic celebration features a birthday party for Portland's biggest celebrity

The Oregon Zoo is throwing an elephant-sized party to celebrate the species that made it famous. Elephantastic, held each year on or near Packy's birthday, takes place Sunday, April 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the zoo. Packy, the oldest male Asian elephant in North America, turns 51 that day.

Elephantastic, free with zoo admission, features a full day of activities, with games, crafts and that ever-popular fashion accessory: elephant ears.

Humans can enjoy cake at Packy's party, too, courtesy of Lamb's Wilsonville Market. Guests should be sure to grab a piece at noon when the cake is served — whether it's for humans or elephants, cake tends to go fast on Packy's birthday.

Just before 2 p.m., a children's choir from the Harmony Road Music Center will perform an original song for Packy in the Elephant Plaza picnic area, next to the sculpture garden.

At 2 p.m., Packy will receive his birthday cake, and visitors can join in singing the birthday song to the prestigious pachyderm as he chows down. The cake, baked by the zoo's executive chef, Paul Bosch, is a 40-pound whole-wheat concoction topped with frosting, apples, carrots and celery. While the cake's design changes from year to year, the way Packy eats his baked good remains the same: quickly.

The fun continues through the afternoon with face painting, games, puppet shows, elephant-sized puzzles, crafts and giant birthday cards for Packy and Rama.

"The Oregon Zoo is world-renowned for its Asian elephant program," said Kim Smith, zoo director, "and Packy's birth was the cornerstone on which this program was built. Packy has been inspiring people to care about elephants for more than half a century. It's only fitting to celebrate the elephant who started it all."

In 1962, Packy became the first elephant to be born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years, and he's held a special spot in his fans' hearts ever since. Packy's birth also helped scientists better understand elephants and opened the door to a new era in elephant welfare.

"Packy started it all," said Bob Lee, elephant curator. "The focus on elephant welfare, the knowledge about elephants. He's an elder statesman now — the oldest male Asian elephant in North America."

Lee noted that while some elephants can live to be 65 or 70, that's comparable to humans making it past 100 — not many of us last that long.

"Packy is in excellent health," Lee said, "but he's definitely a senior citizen. We're starting to see some of the normal signs of aging now — muscle loss and some occasional joint pain — but overall he's phenomenally healthy for his age. He still has that regal manner about him and just sort of exudes confidence."

In addition to being the oldest, Packy is one of the largest male Asian elephants, standing 10 feet 6 inches tall at the shoulder and tipping the scales at around 12,500 pounds. He has fathered seven calves, including Sung-Surin ("Shine") and Rama, both of whom currently live at the zoo.

Packy arrived shortly before 6 a.m. on April 14, 1962, and news about the 225-pound baby spread rapidly. Newspapers and radio stations around the world announced the birth, and Life magazine covered the event with an 11-page spread describing "The Nativity of Packy." Gifts flooded the zoo — everything from gold-plated safety pins to hand-knit baby clothing — and visitors flocked to see the new pachyderm.

Portland has celebrated Packy's birthday every year for the past five decades. At the celebration for Packy's 50th last year, Portland's Royal Rosarians bestowed honorary knighthood upon the pachyderm (dubbing him "Sir Knight Packy" under the rose Super Star), and the Portland Rose Festival named Packy grand marshal of the 2012 Grand Floral Parade.

Next year's Elephantastic celebration should be very different from those of years past. In June, the zoo plans to break ground on Elephant Lands, a sweeping expansion of the Asian elephant habitat that will quadruple the elephants' space and dramatically enhance their daily experiences. The new habitat is designed to let elephants be elephants, giving Packy and the rest of the herd choices about how they spend their days and nights. Learn more about Elephant Lands.