PORTLAND – On Saturday, the Oregon Zoo offered a sneak peek into the new elephant habitat during its annual celebration in honor of its oldest elephant, 'Packy.' But a protest outside the zoo dampened festivities.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the zoo showcased the new construction on ‘Elephant Lands.’ Activities taught kids about elephants and let visitors see what the elephants have to look forward to when the construction is complete in the fall of 2015.
The event was part of ‘Elephantastic,’ an annual salute to elephants, held on or close to Packy’s birthday.
Elephants in the new habitat area
Packy turns 52 on Monday, April 14. Zoo spokesman Hova Najarian said Packy is currently in the east sand yard and won’t be visible to visitors Saturday.
Packy will celebrate his birthday Monday, with a 40-pound whole-wheat birthday cake, frosted and topped with bananas, carrots, apples and sweet potatoes.
“Packy’s an elder statesman now,” said Bob Lee, elephant curator. “He’s the oldest male Asian elephant on the continent, and he really started it all — the focus on elephant welfare, the knowledge about elephants.”
But not everyone was happy about the celebration. More than 100 protesters associated with Free Oregon Zoo Elephants attended a Rally to Free Packy at the front entrance of the zoo Saturday afternoon.
"For 52 years, our beloved Packy has been confined to a cement cell and an artificial display," said Courtney Scott, spokeswoman for FOZE. "He is controlled by intimidation and fear of a bullhook. He rocks, bobs and sways from the boredom and stress of captivity."
Scott said FOZE wants the zoo to allow Packy to retire to a sanctuary, where he can spend the rest of his life "in relative freedom and comfort."
The group says its long-term goal is to petition Metro to get rid of the zoo's elephant exhibit in its entirety.
In response, officials said there is no better place for Packy than at the Oregon Zoo.
"He receives excellent care and is comfortable here in his home," said Najarian. "He is in great shape with no signs of illness."
Najarian said the zoo had hoped visitors Saturday would be able to see Packy, but he hasn't chosen to explore the new habitat yet.
"Packy thrives on the familiar," Najarian said. "Keepers say that's just his nature."