Swim trunk: Aging elephant hits the pool for morning swim

Swim trunk: Aging elephant hits the pool for morning swim »Play Video
With forecasters calling for temperatures near 100 degrees, Packy — the oldest male Asian elephant in North America — began his day with a refreshing swim at the Oregon Zoo. Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

PORTLAND, Ore. — With forecasters calling for temperatures near 100 degrees Monday, one longtime local resident knew just how to beat the heat.

Packy, the oldest male Asian elephant in North America, has been starting his days with a swim at the Oregon Zoo.

On Monday morning, zoo videographers filmed the six-ton senior citizen ambling over to a 10-foot-deep swimming hole in the zoo’s front elephant yard, where he played with a water jet and tossed around a 500-pound log like it was a rubber duckie.

Besides cooling him off, Packy’s pool time also provides Jack LaLanne-style water aerobics and water therapy, easing some of the normal aches and pains associated with old age.

At 52, keepers say, the famous pachyderm’s health is generally good, but he is starting to slow down.

“He’s a tough old guy,” said animal curator Bob Lee, who oversees the zoo’s world-renowned elephant program. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget Packy’s a geriatric elephant. At his age, we just want to give him the most comfortable life we can.”

Zoo veterinarians also say Packy is taking well to the most recent course of treatment for combating tuberculosis, and has shown no clinical signs of illness.

“Packy’s advanced age is one thing we take into account in creating a treatment plan,” said zoo veterinarian Tim Storms.  “We’ve been carefully watching his appetite and lab work. He’s tolerating his current medication regimen better than he has before and maintaining a good weight, and we’re hoping that continues.”

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’s birth started it all,” Lee said. “The focus on elephant welfare, the knowledge about elephants. We’ve learned so much about this species since he was born, and we’re grateful for the chance to put all that knowledge into the new Elephant Lands habitat here at the Oregon Zoo.”

Elephant Lands — the fourth of eight major projects funded by a community-supported 2008 bond measure — is a sweeping expansion of the zoo’s Asian elephant habitat that will quadruple the animals’ space and dramatically enhance their daily experiences. Work on the new habitat, which has been carefully sequenced to gradually expand the elephants’ accessible space in phases, will be completed in the fall of 2015.
 
To learn more, visit oregonzoo.org/ElephantLands.
 
The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program, which has spanned more than 50 years. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo. Through the International Elephant Foundation and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo supports a broad range of elephant conservation efforts to help wild elephants.

In January, the zoo ramped up efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade by partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society on its recently launched 96 Elephants campaign. And last month, the zoo launched it Use Your Reach project to help break the link between palm oil and deforestation in Asian elephant range countries.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. The zoo relies in part on donations through the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.