The King is Dead

Packy the elephantSomehow, I thought he would live forever.

Ridiculous, of course, but it’s the sort of notion that arises. Maybe it’s more of a hope or prayer, a mantra against the inevitable.

Like many others, I thought of him as mine, although I had little claim on him. I wasn’t there when he arrived on April 14, 1962, the only child of Belle and Thonglaw, 225 pounds of astonishing baby Asian  elephant, the first of his kind born in captivity in over 40 years. I didn’t see his childhood among the growing herd, watched over by diligent Al Tucker and his crew. I never got to enjoy his teenage years and see him come into his own, pitting his intelligence–and rising hormones–against my friend Roger Henneous, who took over the elephant barn when Tucker retired.

I came on the scene in 1996. Packy was 34 years old and fully mature, a father seven times over, although only one of his children–Sung-Surin, better known as Shine–has survived him.

He was astonishing; jaw-droppingly wonderful, amazing, incomprehensible. Immense. Packy, the Oregon Zoo's famous bull asian elephant, born in 1962.Grand. Majestic. An earth-bound leviathan better than twelve feet tall and weighing more than 14,000 pounds in his prime. You’d look at him, and your brain couldn’t seem to grasp the fact of him.

Stories abound. I know some of them and wish I knew more: how he challenged Roger during a performance in front of hundreds of spectators; how he gave Dr. Bets Rasmussen her first clues to the estrus cycle in elephants by touching the tip of his trunk to a damp patch of soil and then lifting it to the roof of his mouth; how he bit eight inches off Hugo’s trunk; how much he and Al Tucker loved each other.

Now his stories are over. The world is a greater place for his having been here, but smaller now with his passing.

But I have this hope:

Close your eyes. Imagine a vast plain of grass stretching to the horizon and beyond. As far as you can see, there are elephants–grazing, playing, napping. On a knoll stands a lone female, her wise face turned toward the East and the rising sun. Her ears fan open as she catches the sound of familiar footsteps. Walking out of the dawn comes Packy, her son, her beloved. She hurries to meet him, squealing, rumbling, crooning with delight. Their trunks coil around each other and they are, at long last, reunited. Forever.

Packy & Belle

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