Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Packy, the much-loved elephant born in captivity at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, was euthanized Thursday after a recurring case of tuberculosis, his handlers said.
At 54, Packy was believed to be the oldest pachyderm in captivity in North America.
Packy's birth in 1960 became a regional and national sensation because elephants had so rarely given birth in captivity previously. The Oregon Zoo held a naming contest that drew thousands of entries and the community buzzed with anticipation as Packy's mother, Belle, neared full term. Afterward, Life magazine dedicated 11 pages to a photo spread of the birth.
Immediately, Packy was linked to Portland civic pride and went on to become a favorite animal at the Oregon Zoo for generations of children.
"Suddenly, Portland had something to both shout and gloat about, and the city -- no, make that the entire state -- literally quivered with anticipation," Matthew Maberry, the veterinarian who delivered Packy, wrote in his memoir, Packy & Me. "Nothing like this had happened in Portland's history (or world history, for that matter)."
Beyond his celebrity at birth, Packy's penchant for showmanship at the zoo kept visitors and trainers alike entertained.
"Everyone wants to work with Packy," said Bob Lee, the zoo's head elephant-keeper, who cared for Packy the last 17 years. "There's something about the way he holds his head. It's hard to describe, but he just exudes charisma whenever you're around him. You can't help but love the guy."
Oregon Zoo officials said the decision to euthanize Packy was a difficult one, but made only after all reasonable options were exhausted.
"We'd run out of options for treating him," Dr. Tim Storms, the zoo's lead veterinarian, told The Oregonian. "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."