First of two parts
As the 1960s dawned, few Americans had ever seen a baby elephant. It had been more than 40 years since an elephant had been born in North America, and then only at a circus — never in a zoo.
But in a ramshackle exhibit yard at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, in the summer of 1960, the extraordinary occurred: A 15,000-pound male, Thonglaw, mated with a much smaller female, Belle, and Belle became pregnant. Zookeepers didn't know that elephant gestation takes 22 months, though, and they missed the pregnancy altogether. Unaware, they transferred the pachyderm pair to a zoo in Portland, under a sharing agreement.
In April 1962, at the Portland zoo, Belle gave birth to a male named Packy, and an international sensation was ignited. Life magazine devoted an 11-page spread to the birth. The country got caught up in a Packy craze, with toys, clothes and books bearing the cute baby's image flying off the shelves.
The public seemed to feel a unique connection to elephants, gentle giants who exhibit many humanlike qualities. Elephants live in families, exhibit memory and possess surprising self-awareness, such as recognizing themselves in a mirror. They experience grief and love, pain and fear.