I met Ann (a painter) on the waterfront July 4th. As I sat in the grass waiting for the fireworks, she was passing out flyers about Free the Oregon Elephants. She really didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, but she said yes because she is concerned about the health and welfare of the elephants at the Portland Zoo.

There are eight elephants at the Portland Zoo, and Packy is the oldest, at 52. He’s nearing the end of his life, sick with tuberculosis (a potentially fatal respiratory disease), has ankus (a pointed control device) wounds, foot disease, a wound on his face from lying on concrete, and a foot injury from repeatedly kicking a door, according to FOZE.

Radley describes a few of Packy’s injuries:

Elephants in captivity have half the lifespan of wild elephants, and Courtney Scott, president of the FOZE board, said elephants cannot be held in captivity without damaging them psychologically. Elephants are sold back and forth from zoos to circuses, she said, and are beaten and abused in the process.

FOZE is holding a silent protest at the zoo (FB event) this Sat. (7/19) and are demanding that Metro send Packy to a wildlife preserve in California so he can complete his life in a more natural environment. The zoo is holding their Zoolala fundraising gala that day— so FOZE is calling their event Boolala. (Get it?)

According to a recent story in Willamette Week quoted on FOZE’s website, Metro President Tom Hughes told the activists in June that Packy would not be sent to the PAWS wildlife preserve. Hughes wouldn’t agree to an independent health assessment either. In a great piece, WW detailed recent problems at the zoo: its top veterinarian was fired, as was the zoo’s director, and seven primates have died at the zoo.

Scott also said the zoo broke its promise to use a $125 million bond, issued in 2008, to improve the comfort and health of elephants by expanding their enclosure and establishing a new, more open elephant reserve outside of Portland. In the recent WW interview, Hughes expressed concerns about the new’s facilities financing and location.

FOZE members said the bond money is going to the zoo’s captive breeding program, and Radley doesn’t think the new exhibit will happen without public pressure. Even if the new exhibit is built, Packy probably won’t be around to enjoy it.

Many zoos are ending their elephant exhibits because they are harder to find in the wild and captive breeding programs haven’t been very successful. Other zoos just don’t have the space for the intelligent, social creatures.

From the FOZE website:

Packy has never known the freedom of walking through a rainforest. He has never known the native flora of his homeland, smelled the muskiness of low woody plants or pulled a leaf from a tree. He has never felt the earth beneath his feet. He has never taken a mud bath or blown fine dust on his skin to protect it from the sun. He has never heard the music of native birds, the thrum of insects and the calls of monkeys. He has never had a chance to be part of a bachelor herd. Instead, he is confined to a cement cell and a small artificial exhibit where [he] is put on display.

Packy has not been on public display lately, concerning Radley and the FOZE activists. He didn’t attend his birthday party this spring, though he was photographed at a media-only event two days later. An Oregonian article about his birthday discussed his tuberculosis treatment, but didn’t mention the 70 protesters outside the zoo’s gates. A commenter on the story chided the reporter for this omission, and not asking harder questions about Packy’s health.

Scott and Bradley encourage folks to like FOZE’s Facebook page, attend the protest, and contact Hughes and encourage him to allow Packy to retire:

Tom Hughes: 503-797-1889

He’s called Packy, but until we learn the elephants’ language, we won’t know his real name.