Thursday 21 September 2017

‘I just sat with him and held his hand and said if you want to go just go' - sad scenes as Dublin Zoo keepers grieve for Harry the gorilla on The Zoo

Harry the gorilla
Harry the gorilla
Harry the gorilla
New arrival at Dublin Zoo with mum Lena. Photo:Patrick Bolger Photography
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Sunday night's episode of The Zoo was a rollercoaster of emotion from joy as a baby gorilla was born to heartache as silverback Harry passed away.

Harry had been the leader of Dublin Zoo's gorilla troupe for the previous 20 years.  He died unexpectedly of a stroke last May and the zoo keepers spoke about the devastating loss on the final episode of the RTE series.

"It was like nothing I've ever felt in my life," said Aisling.  "I've never felt this type of loss.  You work, you spend 8-10 hours a day with these animals and it's hard for people who don't work with animals to understand the impact they have on your life."

Speaking about Harry's final moments, she added, "I just sat with him and held his hand and I just said to him, 'If you want to go just go and we'll be alright.' I said, 'I'll look after the family for you.'  And that was the last moment I had with him.  And then he literally took a few deep breaths and he went and that was it.

"He was just that kind of animal - completely irreplacable.  No matter who they bring in now it'll never be him and the whole zoo is feeling that way today."

Another keeper added, "I've had tough days in here but yeah that was the worst I've ever had to deal with."

They described Harry as a "gentle giant" who "took care of his family with dignity".

Viewers of the episode were also feeling emotional about Harry's death with several commenting on how the report had made them cry.

Lena and her baby
Lena and her baby

However, it wasn't all sadness as Harry's love interest Lena was expecting their seventh baby at the time of his death.

Lena, who was born in 1984, had her baby on July 16 last year and the new arrival brought huge excitement to the zoo, picking up the family of grieving gorillas in the wake of Harry's death.

New arrival at Dublin Zoo with mum Lena. Photo:Patrick Bolger Photography
New arrival at Dublin Zoo with mum Lena. Photo:Patrick Bolger Photography
Lena's new baby

Western lowland gorillas are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species so the new baby was good news for the European breeding program.

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