One day before Oregon Zoo director Don Moore internally announced the impending euthanization of Packy the elephant, an Oregon Zoo elephant keeper named Pam Starkey sent an email to members of the Metro Council urging them to reconsider their decision to euthanize the 54-year-old elephant.
Starkey has worked for the zoo for the past 10 years. In her email, sent Feb. 7, she wrote that staff had spoken out in meetings against Packy's euthanization and had been ignored. She called Packy's death "untimely and unethical."
Starkey's email was obtained by WW via a public records request. It's part of a series of internal communications between officials at the zoo and Metro, the regional government that oversees it.
The emails show an effort by zoo leaders to hone a unified message in the days before Feb. 9, when the zoo put Packy down. At the same time, the emails show a group of dissenting voices—with Starkey at the forefront—demanding the zoo reconsider its decision and let the public weigh in.
Last fall, zoo officials determined Packy was suffering from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.
The Feb. 8 internal announcement from Oregon Zoo director Don Moore points to Packy's decline in health.
“As you know, Packy is suffering from an active, drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. There are no viable treatment options for him, and without treatment, the TB will continue to worsen.”
There had been rumors swirling for weeks surrounding whether or not Packy would be euthanized. Emails show animal advocates from In Defense of Animals and Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants contacted zoo officials as early as mid-January, urging them not to euthanize the elephant.
In her Feb. 7 email, Starkey told Metro councilors Packy had "improved greatly."
“Packy has passed every quality of life assessment since August 2016 to the present with no issues. There has been no decline in criteria or red flags prompting further review or more frequent monitoring or requests for re-evaluation. In contradiction, Packy has improved greatly since cessation of the TB medications. The elephant barn also does monthly health assessments. These comprehensive 100+ point evaluations encompassing everything from skin quality to foot care have shown no new issues since their inception. Vet staff admits no testing has been done since September indicating their statements of his “progression” in the disease are a guess at best as they do not want the risk of additional testing. The elephant barn also has documented video footage of Packy’s twice daily exercise routine which when viewed disputes the Director and Assistant Directors assertions that Packy is slowing down, does not stretch out or have the ability to lay down anymore. Management also asked that a cortisol study be performed to judge Packy’s stress level to justify “euthanasia” only to find Packy’s stress level is low and has lowered reflectively since ceasing his TB medications. Experts were consulted, no doubt, but I ask what limited documented information were they given to determine that it is “unethical” to keep him alive. Were they provided with the above information to review to make their assessments?”
She also writes that other zoo staff have been proactive in offering extra precautions and care for Packy, which were rejected.
“Giving Packy a yard and not overlapping the group as well as suggestions to add additional precautions have been made and rejected. Staff has asked for additions to our already conservative protocols. Not through concern of infection but in an effort to allow Packy ongoing care. Staff has even offered to become specific caretakers for Packy in order to eliminate any risk of cross contamination to the rest of the group.”
In an email response to Starkey on Feb. 8, Metro president Tom Hughes thanked the zookeeper for her perspective. He wrote:
“We respect our employees’ right to speak up. We also respect the expertise of the zoo’s leaders. Decisions about animal welfare must be made by animal experts, not by elected officials. That’s why we are so grateful to Zoo Director Dr. Don Moore and his team for holding extensive, open meetings with the elephant team, with the zoo as a whole, with our volunteers and with other zoo work groups.”
He also wrote that the Metro Council would "stand with the zoo as it makes the very challenging decisions needed to fulfill its mission to inspire the community to respect animals and take action on behalf of the natural world."
In Moore's Feb. 8 email to Metro employees announcing the decision to euthanize Packy, he explains the decision to euthanize Packy when they did.
“We did not want his last day to be his worst day; therefore we chose tomorrow so his life would be dignified in the end.”