Remembering Packy the Elephant on World Zoothanasia Day, February 9
An Animal Rights Article from


Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
February 2018

Using the word euthanasia is humane-washing: The thousands of animals are really being zoothanized.

Packy Elephant

How much is a 54-year-old bull elephant worth compared to a four-year-old reproductive calf?

54-year old Asian elephant Packy was the oldest known Asian male elephant in North America. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2013 but reportedly showed no signs of suffering from the disease. According to his keeper, “Packy has never shown any signs or symptoms of the TB infection. He is showing no signs of pain or discomfort. He is active, playful and engaged with keeper staff every day.” The Zoo’s own Facebook page repeatedly corroborates the absence of signs of illness in Packy, and in December a Zoo official told the Portland Tribune, “Day to day he doesn’t appear to be suffering…"

On February 9, 2017, 54-year old Packy, an elephant living at the Oregon Zoo, was killed because he was ill with tuberculosis. In recognition of his being zoothanized, not euthanized, I suggested that we make February 9 World Zoothanasia Day to remember and pay tribute to all of the nonhuman animals (animals) who have been killed in zoos because they were deemed to "surplus," "useless," or "unwanted merchandise" because they didn't fit into a zoo's breeding program or the zoo no longer had room for them. The organization In Defense of Animals joined in this commemoration. Oregon Zoo earned fifth place on their 2016 list of the Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America. This captive animal park has been included on the list seven times.

Here's some information on Packy

Oregon Zoo brought Packy into the world and profited from him for decades. He was not suffering, and risk management plans were working, yet they killed him anyway. This is a truly sickening betrayal of a highly self-aware and conscious individual. We demand that the five remaining elephants at Oregon Zoo are freed and retired to a sanctuary where they can receive genuine care and respect. (In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick)

Packy was born at Oregon Zoo in 1962. In his lifetime, he sired seven calves, and the Zoo profited off of his life for all of his 54 years.

His diagnosis of active and drug-resistant tuberculosis was deemed incurable, yet it was reported that he showed no signs of suffering from the disease itself, with no signs of pain or discomfort. According to a zoo keeper he was "active, playful and engaged with keeper staff every day." Despite these clear signs of his well-being, his condition required intensive care, attention, and expense on the part of the Zoo.

The dark secret is that zoos have limited room, and limited budgets, for their animals. Old or ill animals are not good for business. They are considered to be taking up space that could be given to younger, reproductively active animals who can breed and keep ticket sales coming in. This cold, hard fact is summed up by a comment reportedly made by a member of the Oregon Zoo staff in a meeting, "How much is a 54-year-old bull worth compared to a four-year-old reproductive calf?"

The anonymous zookeeper who raised the alarm under the banner “Team Packy” on a dedicated Facebook page advised "this decision is not based on science, safety or Packy’s best interest. It is a risk-based decision made by politicians, attorneys and other officials who fear the future repercussions of keeping him alive.”

Using the word "euthanasia" is humane-washing: The thousands of animals are really being zoothanized

In a BBC News essay by Hannah Barnes called "How many healthy animals do zoos put down?" we learn:

EAZA [European Association of Zoos and Aquaria] does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Lesley Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are 'management-euthanised' in European zoos in any given year.

These thousands of animals were not euthanized or "management-euthanized." Rather, they were "zoothanized." "Zoothanasia" refers to the practice of killing healthy animals so zoos can clear out more space for animals who will either be killed in the future or live out their lives in cages (for more discussion of this topic please see "'Zoothanasia' Is Not Euthanasia: Words Matter," "Killing Healthy Animals in Zoos: "'Zoothanasia' is a Reality," and "It's Still Not Happening at the Zoo: Sharp Divisions Remain").

Euthanasia is mercy killing that is used when an individual is interminably ill or suffering from interminable pain. Zoo administrators use the word "euthanasia" to cover up what they're really doing, namely killing healthy individuals humanely. It's an excellent example of what Jessica Pierce and I call "humane-washing" in our book The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (for more discussion please see "Stairways to Heaven, Temples of Doom, and Humane-Washing").

So, for example, the nine lion cubs who were zoothanized in a Swedish Zoo since 2012 were neither interminably ill nor suffering from interminable pain (for more discussion please see "Outrage Ensues As Zoo In Sweden Admits To Killing Nine Healthy Lion Cubs" and "Swedish Zoo Zoothanizes' Nine Healthy, "Useless" Lion Cubs"). Neither was the young bear who was killed in a Swiss zoo to protect him from his father or two adult and two young lions who were killed at the Copenhagen zoo "in the name of conservation and breeding."

People who didn't know that zoos do these sorts of things were incensed. These individuals are viewed as mere commodities who, when they're no longer economically useful, are killed. Recall the comment reportedly made by a member of the Oregon Zoo staff, "How much is a 54-year-old bull worth compared to a four-year-old reproductive calf?"

The Swedish zoo that's engaged in this slaughter is called Boras Djurpark. Bo Kjellson, the CEO of the zoo, is quoted as saying he "resorts to the controversial practice if the animals cannot be moved to other zoos or if they are rejected by their group.” Mr. Kjellson also notes, “It’s no secret in any way and we do not try to hide that we’re working this way ... So, it’s, unfortunately, a natural path for groups of lions.” Natural? I'll let you ponder this use of the word "natural."

Let's also consider Marius, the young giraffe who became the "poster child" (some might say the "poster corpse") for zoothanasia when he was killed in 2014 at the Copenhagen zoo (before the four lions were killed) because they didn't need his genes. His unnecessary death, which happened despite offers from other facilities to take him in, brought global attention to the practice of zoothanasia. People who never previously had gotten involved in any sort of animal activism were outraged, and many voiced their opinions.

Remembering Packy and others: "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight"

It should be a moral imperative that zoos not kill healthy so-called "surplus" animals. However, sometimes the people responsible for carrying out zoothanasia are called heroes, such as Bengt Holst, the Copenhagen zoo's scientific director, who wrote off killing Marius as business as usual. On other occasions, it's claimed that zoothanasia is a complex issue and zoo directors refuse to take a position on it. One can make it as "complex" as they like, but killing healthy animals doesn't seem to be very complex at all.

Please recognize World Zoothanasia Day and take the time to light a candle for Packy, Marius, the nine healthy lion cubs who were recently killed in Sweden, and the thousands of other sentient beings who were killed at zoos because they were deemed to be useless objects. Kindly share this information and also make your feelings known, because as Gretchen Wyler once aptly remarked, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight."

Stay tuned for more discussions of zoothanasia. Let's hope it rapidly disappears as the standard operating procedure for getting rid of "worthless" sentient beings as more and more people take a strong stand against it.

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