Packy, the oldest male of his species in North America, died in captivity at the Oregon Zoo on Thursday. He was 54.
The elephant was euthanized after suffering from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis and after veterinarians failed to find an alternative method to treat it, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement obtained by NBC News, the lead veterinarian for the Oregon Zoo, Dr. Tim Storms, said, “We’d run out of options for treating him. The remaining treatments involved side effects that would have been very hard on Packy with no guarantee of success, plus a risk of creating further resistance.”
“None of us felt it would be right to do that,” Storms continued. “But without treatment, his TB would have continued to get worse.”
Packy drew international attention when he was born in 1962 for being the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years. More than 1 million people visited the zoo in Portland, Oregon that year, the AP reports.
He was featured in an 11-page spread in Life magazine the year he was born, and there were Rose Parade floats were created in his honor.
According to the AP, from Packy’s birth to the birth of his daughter, Shine, in 1982, Portland saw the birth of 21 of the 27 Asian elephants born in North America.
“Packy’s birth started it all,” elephant curator Bob Lee said. “The focus on elephant welfare, the knowledge about elephants. If you think about the time when he was born, it’s mind-boggling — Kennedy was president, the Beatles hadn’t made any records yet, cigarettes didn’t have warnings from the Surgeon General. We’ve learned so much about elephants since then, and it never could have happened without Packy.”
The Oregon Zoo wrote on their website that a memorial event for Packy will be announced when plans are finalized. People can offer condolences or post their favorite memories of him on their Facebook page.