Packy

Belle & Packy (1)
Packy & Belle, picture courtesy of Roger Henneous

As the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years, Packy’s arrival on April 14, 1962 was the culmination of an anxiety-ridden 22 months for owner Morgan Berry, veterinarian Matt Maberry, and the staff of the Portland Zoological Gardens (as it was then called). Proud mother Belle consumed a bouquet of flowers in celebration, and sire Thonglaw ate a congratulatory cigar (unlighted). Overcome with emotion and fatigue, zoo director Jack Marks fainted.

Visitors from all over the world–including dignitaries like author Aldous Huxley–brought zoo attendance above the one million mark.

An adorable, playful calf–well, aren’t they all?–Packy delighted visitors and staff alike, became the darling of his herd, and took first place in the heart of senior keeper Al Tucker. As he grew, he exceeded all expectations, topped twelve feet in height and weighing over 14,000 pounds in his prime. Reporter Rod Smith described him as “quite intelligent, incredibly quick; a ponderous dancer, poised and graceful, he looks capable of awesome mayhem.”

As bulls go, Packy was reasonably easy to deal with, having never known any life except the zoo. Even so, he did cause his share of problems, like when he bit eight inches off another bull’s trunk!

muknah, or tuskless bull, he sired seven offspring: two unnamed calves that died shortly after birth, Sumek, Khun Chorn, Thongtrii, Sung Surin, and Rama.

Over time, Packy’s physical majesty diminished and his cycles of musth, once extremely regular, grew erratic. In December 2013, a routine test for tuberculosis came back positive. He underwent treatment with varying degrees of success, but proved resistant to medication. Packy died in February 2017 and is buried on heavily wooded property owned by the zoo.

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Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Matt Maberry & Packy; Director Jack Marks succumbs to exhaustion; Packy as an old man; Packy with Al Tucker; author Aldous Huxley visits the newborn.

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“Find a new job, or find a new wife.”

When we last left our hero (and I do apologize for the delay; I’ve been busy with other projects), he’d managed to convince RoseMerrie Peterson to marry him, and they’d settled down to wedded bliss in Portland …

Time passed, and with it came fatherhood and it’s unanticipated mental and emotional challenges. Suddenly, Roger was assaulted by a slew of emotions–tenderness, worry, unimaginable love, protectiveness–and a deepened sense of responsibility that gave him a whole new appreciation for his father, who’d worked any job available to keep the family afloat.

Leonard’s example haunted him in the months to come because Roger would have given anything to quit his job at Freightliner. It paid their bills and enabled them to put a little aside, but he hated the grind and being cooped up away from fresh air and sunshine; hated the industrial stink of the painting booth and the poor lighting that caused debilitating headaches.

Seeing her husband drag home every night eventually became too much for RoseMerrie, and she issued an ultimatum: “Find a new job, or find a new wife.” She meant it in jest–sort of–but the task was easier said than done. A single man might walk away from a perfectly good job because he didn’t enjoy it–an attitude that rankled Roger’s Midwestern word ethic–but he had a family to support and didn’t dare take the risk.

Then one morning, he glanced up from the paper. “The zoo’s looking to hire a keeper. Now, that’s a job I’d like.”

“Apply for it,” RoseMerrie said immediately.

To her annoyance, Roger pooh-pooh’d the idea because he had no experience with exotic animals. “Maybe not,” she countered. “But you’ve worked with plenty of others.” Shaking his head, he left for work. The instant his truck pulled away, however, she called the number listed in the ad and requested an application. When it arrived, she strong-armed Roger into filling it out and mailing it in.

For weeks, nothing happened. Roger was disappointed, but not surprised, and resolved to put away such foolish dreams and get on with his life … until a phone call came one afternoon asking if he was interested in taking the exam for a keeper position.

The invitation wasn’t the momentous achievement it seemed at the time. The zoo had received an overwhelming 400 applications. Of those, 230 candidates had been contacted to take the exam, which consisted of basic civil service questions plus several involving “common sense” animal care. Roger was one of 60 hopefuls called back to undergo a physical activity test that involved hauling four 60-pound gunny sacks from place to place against a time clock. In the prime of life and strong from lugging around five-gallon paint buckets, he breezed through the trial without a hitch.

The field now narrowed to 20 candidates, each of whom was granted an interview. That’s when Roger learned there was only a single keeper position available. He returned home to wait, but when the rejection came–he’d scored firmly in the middle of the list of ten finalists–he was crushed with disappointment.

A full year came and went. Roger focused on family, work, the annual hunting trip with his brother and their friends … and tried to forget about the zoo. He was packing the truck for a vacation in Canada when a postcard arrived in the mail, informing him that he was now at the head of the list of zoo keeper hopefuls, and was he still interested? If so, please fill out the information below and return this card.

Roger stared at it, pummeled by doubt and hope. Did he want to risk trying again? Could he tolerate such crushing disappointment a second time?

RoseMerrie produced a pen and made him fill out the card. Roger added a caveat to the bottom, that he was only interested in a full-time position because he had a family to support, and dropped it in the mail.

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Ten days later, they returned from vacation. By the time the truck was unloaded and the fussy baby soothed to sleep, it was nearly dawn. Roger and RoseMerrie dropped into bed and were instantly asleep …

… until the phone rang at eight o’clock.

Roger vaulted out of bed and snatched up the receiver before it rang again and woke Michelle. “Henneous residence,” he growled.

“Good morning,” said a cheery voice at the other end. “Is this Roger?”

“Who’s asking?”

“This is Bill Scott. I’m foreman at the zoo.”

Suddenly, Roger was wide awake. Buck naked in the center of the bedroom, he stared at the receiver in his hand.

To be continued….

 

Their Own

IMG_6471To paraphrase Henry Beston (The Outermost House):

“For the [elephant] shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

Pet

Roger, Pet
Roger & Pet. Photo courtesy of Roger Henneous.

Though Belle remained Number One in Roger’s heart, Pet securely held the Number Two spot.

“She was a roly-poly little fireplug without a mean bone in her body. I couldn’t look at her without smiling.”

Pet was born around 1955 near Bangkok, Thailand, but there’s no record if either of her parents were wild, or captive. She was purchased by Morgan Berry when she was only two years old, and joined his fledgling herd of Belle and Thonglaw. Not much past calf-hood herself, Belle immediately adopted the tiny, pigeon-toed baby as her own and they remained best friends for life.

In the late 1960s, Pet participated in a study to evaluate elephants’ visual acuity. Each correct answer earned them a sugar cube; 20 correct answers in a row brought an end to the test. Years later, she and the other animals involved were retested to see if they remembered how the apparatus worked. Her classmates scored 20 correct responses almost immediately, but Pet labored, scoring 12 and missing, fourteen and missing, and so on. One of the researchers remarked, “She’s really stupid compared to the others.”

A keeper standing nearby smiled. “She knows 20 correct responses brings an end to her treats. She’s just maximizing her return.”

Asian elephant Pet enjoying some exercise out of her exhibit at the Oregon Zoo.
Photo courtesy of Oregon Zoo website.