Packy, the oldest male Asian elephant in North America, turns 51 this week at the Oregon Zoo. Visitors can wish him a happy birthday during the zoo’s Elephantastic celebration, April 14.

We received some emails with various questions about elephants. Maybe you have some too. We are going to begin to answer these questions every Thursday. Send us a note with yours and you can be featured here too!

QUESTION from Concerned Mother in Houston: 

I recently took my son to the zoo and he was very depressed when we saw the elephants. He didn’t understand why such large animals are in zoos. Now he wants to grow up and help elephants get out of zoos. My question is, why are elephants in the zoo to begin with?


It is troublesome to see such large animals in captivity. And there are many groups who would like to see elephants only in the wild and not at zoos. However, zoos play an important role in education and raising public awareness. First off, your son wants to work with elephants, mainly in part because of his experience at the zoo. If he had not been exposed to these amazing animals at the zoo, there is a chance he would not be interested in them. I know from first-hand experience myself that my love for elephants is directly related to the zoo. When I was six, I went “behind the scenes” at the Memphis Zoo and fed an elephant. That experience alone engendered me to these magnificent animals.

Zoos that are affiliated with the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) are required to meet certain guidelines for animal care. These zoos are also required to provide animal enrichment opportunities, which help keep the animals active and happy. So before visiting a zoo, check to see if they are accredited. Currently, there are 221 listed with the AZA. This will assure you of the highest, most advanced quality of care for the elephants, and all animals there.

Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

This weekend, one of the most prestigious zoos in North America for elephant care, the Oregon Zoo, is celebrating a very special pachyderm birthday. Packy the elephant is turning 51 and has been instrumental for teaching people about Asian Elephants. As one Zoo volunteer said, “People only protect what they know…and this all a wonderful chance to get to know about Asian Elephants.” Packy is “the largest, oldest Asian bull elephant in North America, and he has ushered in a new and better understanding of these magnificent pachyderms.”

So are zoos ideal? No. In a perfect world, all animals would be living in the wild. We hope that maybe someday there won’t be a need for zoos. But until then, zoos do play an instrumental role in raising public awareness and helping with species survival. Below is a 5 minute video from the Oregon Zoo from last year’s birthday party for Packy.

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