PORTLAND, Ore. -- In 1962, civil rights marches were underway, Johnny Carson took over the Tonight show, and John F. Kennedy was president. But in Portland, the big story that spring was the arrival of a baby elephant at the zoo.
Never had a birth in Oregon been so anticipated, or an expecting mother so celebrated. Well wishers sent hundreds of roses to the elephant barn -- that were promptly eaten by the pachyderms.
Nervous zoo staff brought in medical equipment normally used on humans to track expecting mother Belle’s vital signs. The only problem was, they weren’t exactly sure what they were looking for.
Dr. Matthew Maberry was the zoo’s first full-time veterinarian and was right in the middle of the excitement.
“Much as I tried to find some information on the birth of an elephant, I didn’t find anything at all,” explained Dr. Maberry.
Elephant births are more common now, but Packy was the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in over 44 years.
Dr. Maberry admits they didn’t have a clear idea of what would happen or when. So he essentially moved into the elephant barn, sleeping near Belle for three months. The world watched while Dr. Maberry waited.
“I think no one would probably know what it was like,” said Maberry, “except a woman who was pregnant.”
In the second week of April Dr. Maberry started noticing changes in Belle. Her temperature dropped and the labor pains were more intense.
Packy arrived just before 6 a.m. on Saturday April 14. His first few steps were wobbly and his hairy appearance earned him the name “fuzzy face.” The 225 pound baby boy was unaware that he was making history - a history now documented in a new book by Dr. Maberry called “Packy & Me.”
“I’ve lived a life most people would dream about,” said Maberry.
As the book details, Dr. Maberry’s legacy goes far beyond Packy. What he did in Oregon improved the lives of zoo elephants everywhere. Mike Keele is the Director of Elephant habitat at the Oregon Zoo. “Dr. Maberry ignited a culture of learning here.” He told us.
Elephants were unchained, socialized and given better care under Dr. Maberry. The elephant breeding program also gained national status. During Dr. Maberry’s 15 years at the zoo, 15 more baby elephants were born. “And still, when he left, there had been no other elephants born anywhere else in the U.S. but here,” said Keele.
As for “fuzzy face” Packy, he turns 49 this year. Packy remains the oldest male Asian elephant in America.
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