The most famous resident of the Chattanooga Zoo - Hank the Chimpanzee - died in his sleep Sunday night at the age of 42.
Darde Long, zoo executive director, said Hank had been in good health other than suffering from diabetes.
She said he was acting normal on Sunday and interacting with visitors.
His body was taken to Knoxville for a necropsy.
Ms. Long said, "Hank was charismatic and an icon. He's going to be missed by a lot of people - generations really."
She added, "He will never be replaced at the zoo. That's for sure."
Ms. Long said the other apes were mourning his loss. She said, "They are very quiet today."
Ms. Long said, “Hank was a very dear
friend to anyone coming to visit with him. He loved his many visitors and could get even the most straight-laced adults to do funny things to garner his attention. This is a huge loss for us, but we all have our memories of this incredible creature and the difference he made at the Zoo.”
Hank was born in the Rainforests of Africa in 1968. He was captured at a young age and was acquired by a circus. During his younger years, Hank was one of the best known circus entertainers around. However, as is the case with all chimps, once they reach adulthood, they can weigh over 140 pounds and become very aggressive. Because of this, his owner could no longer keep him and in 1976, Hank was donated to the Warner Park Zoo.
Since 2001, Hank has resided in the Zoo’s Gombe Forest, an exhibit that provided him with lots of opportunities to interact with his many friends.
In 2005, the Zoo introduced Hank to Josie, one of the facility’s older
females in the hopes of providing Hank someone to interact with on a regular basis. However, Hank always took a great interest in his human visitors.
He loved seeing what type of shoes they were wearing, enjoyed sitting with them and touching them through the exhibit’s glass walls.
In addition, Hank loved his annual birthday parties, called “Hank’s Day”
when his many friends would come out to see him enjoy cake and ice cream. Hank’s guests would participate in crafts and activities that would teach them about the Zoo’s best known resident and the importance of conservation education.
Dr. Mickey Meyers, one of Hank’s veterinarians and a member of the Friends of the Zoo noted, “Hank had a great life. He lived past his life expectancy and enjoyed good health for many years. His long life is a testament to the great care provided by the staff of the Chattanooga Zoo.”
Hank has been honored by the Tennessee State Legislature as well as by many local officials through the years as one of Chattanooga’s best ambassadors.
Mayor Ron Littlefield said, “I am saddened to hear of Hank’s death. Since 1976, Hank was the center of attention at the Chattanooga Zoo. The beloved mascot was a long-term, treasured member of the community and will be sorely missed.”
Hank is survived by the many residents of the Chattanooga Zoo as well as a host of friends throughout the area. The public is being asked to share their memories and photos of Hank on the Zoo’s website: www.chattzoo.org or on their Facebook page.