A guest on Packy’s day

Camas boy contributes to the celebration as the Oregon Zoo’s famed pachyderm turns 50

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoLeland Heflin, 6, of Camas helps deliver Packy the elephant’s 50th birthday cake Saturday at an Oregon Zoo party. In 1962, Packy was the first Asian elephant born in the Western hemisphere in nearly a half-century.
photoPhotos by Steven Lane/The Columbian Packy eats a piece of cake as he celebrates his 50th birthday during a celebration at the Oregon Zoo on Saturday. Camas resident Leland Heflin, 6, helped deliver the cake after winning a drawing a few months ago. Leland’s mother, Ericka Lytle, said Packy devoured the cake in five to 10 minutes.
photoThousands showed up Saturday to celebrate Packy's 50th birthday during a party at the Oregon Zoo.

(/The Columbian)

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He wasn’t the star of the show, but a Camas boy enjoyed VIP treatment during Saturday’s birthday celebration for Packy, the Oregon Zoo’s famed Asian elephant.

Six-year-old Leland Heflin was among a handful of children to deliver Packy’s 50th birthday cake. The group wheeled the cake -- topped with carrots, bananas and celery -- directly into the pen before the birthday boy walked in.

“And we all got to see Packy eat his birthday cake,” Leland said.

Leland earned his spot in the celebration a few months ago, after he won a drawing and was named the zoo’s 50 millionth visitor. He also won gifts and a year-long zoo membership.

Leland’s mother, Ericka Lytle, said they made sure to leave time to explore the rest of the zoo before the birthday celebration. Leland saw his other favorites -- penguins, wolves and giraffes among them -- before heading Packy’s way. Lytle said they were also allowed into the trainers’ area during the event, attended by thousands of people.

When Packy was born on April 14, 1962, he was the first Asian elephant born in the Western hemisphere in nearly a half-century, according to the Oregon Zoo. His parents were bred nearly two years earlier in Woodland, according to the zoo. The young pachyderm’s name was chosen through a contest held by a local radio station.

The birthday celebration wasn’t the only honor for Packy this weekend. Portland’s Rose Festival also announced that the elephant will serve as grand marshal of the event’s Grand Floral Parade in June. (He won’t be marching the parade route, however.)

On Saturday, the elephant didn’t waste any time digging into his birthday cake. Lytle estimated it was gone in five to 10 minutes.

“It didn’t last very long,” she said. “He had it gone pretty quick.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.