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Dublin Zoo keeper reveals her horror at ‘painful, terrible’ death of Harry the gorilla

Last week Senator Annie Hoey read out a whistleblower’s statement on alleged animal abuse at Dublin Zoo


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Yvonne McCann says that she bonded with Harry

Yvonne McCann says that she bonded with Harry

Yvonne McCann with a penquin

Yvonne McCann with a penquin

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Yvonne McCann says that she bonded with Harry

The heartbroken keeper who cared for Dublin Zoo’s former star attraction Harry the silverback gorilla in his final days, said she was “horrified at the painful death he suffered”.

Veterinary Nurse Yvonne McCann was one of the main zoo-keepers in the Primates enclosure in Dublin Zoo between 2014 and 2016 and was in the charity for 12 years.

During that time, she built up a deep bond with the 250-kilo silverback gorilla Harry, who she believes was more like a “person than an animal”

Last week, Harry’s tragic final days featured in explosive testimony in the Seanad where Labour Senator Annie Hoey read out a whistleblower’s statement about alleged animal abuse at Dublin Zoo.

Speaking under Seanad privilege, Senator Hoey detailed how the whistleblower has claimed that Harry suffered a painful death and that warnings about his health were ignored by Zoo management.

The Zoo subsequently released a statement saying they ‘vehemently disputes unfounded allegations of mistreatment of animals’.

Today, Yvonne McCann has broken her silence to reveal she was “delighted” the Irish public got to hear a snapshot of how Harry died and that she was happy Senator Hoey spoke up in the Seanad.

She said: “On my dying bed, I will still be heartbroken over Harry’s death. He wasn’t well for around two months before he died. I have a tattoo with his date of death. I loved him. The grief I feel for him is like nothing I have ever experienced or will ever experience.

“I logged my concerns in the daily Zims (Zoological Information Management System) reports about Harry. I knew he was off; I knew he wasn’t himself... I raised it would not euthanise him and I don’t know why, they said they could do nothing for him, but he should have been put to sleep and not left there”.

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Yvonne McCann at the zoo

Yvonne McCann at the zoo

Yvonne McCann at the zoo

Yvonne said she remains in counselling “to this day over Harry”.

She said: “He had a terrible death. In the end I sat with him and said, ‘please just go’ I told him I loved him and I would make sure he was remembered... And I made a pact with him that I’d stay with him until the end. His partner Lena and his babies came to see him when he died. His daughter went out into the island and wailed like something I have never heard before or want to hear again. Lena has died since and a lot of her babies.”

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In the Seanad on Thursday, Senator Hoey detailed heartbreaking claims by a whistleblower about the mistreatment of animals in the Zoo.

Yvonne said: “Harry was a Silverback male gorilla and died on the 29th of May 2016. Keepers consistently raised concerns leading up to his death.

“Keepers repeatedly asked for a vet to examine him. And eventually a vet was called, and he died shortly afterwards and this has had an adverse effect on the rest of the troop.

“This is one of the hardest stories for me to hear from the many staff I spoke to as the pain in their voice over how he was treated and the run up to his death was unbearable. And ...I sanitised the details here as I don’t think I could read all of them out. But I saw the photos of Harry at the end, and he suffered greatly.”

Following her testimony, Dublin Zoo said in a statement that it allegations of mistreatment of animals “are wholly misleading” and “contain inaccurate clinical assessments.”

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Yvonne McCann with a penquin

Yvonne McCann with a penquin

Yvonne McCann with a penquin

However, Yvonne’s concerns about Harry were included in Dublin Zoo’s Zims reports seen by this paper.

Zims reports are a database of the animal’s history and day to day care that can be viewed by management and other zoos around the world.

In a statement about the Zims reports, the Zoo said: “Where you refer to specific instances in the treatment of particular animals it is possible that such information may have been gleaned from daily animal reports.

“It is critical to understand however that these represent only a snapshot in time of a particular animal’s welfare.”

Harry’s ZIMS report shows on 6th March 2016 Yvonne logged concerns saying “Harry has been “ear-cupping” a little lately. He is also picking and pulling at his right forearm. Trying to keep him occupied with other activities.”

The next day she logged another concern saying “Harry was a little off form this morning but improved in the afternoon. He still has small wounds on his right arm. He was ‘ear-cupping’ a lot during the early part of the day.”

The next five records made by Yvonne highlight further concerns about Harry that he was still “ear cupping”, had “no interest in training”, “went to bed early” and was “off form”.

By 23rd March 2016, there are still issues with Harry’s behaviour according to Yvonne’s notes

On 23rd May 2016 Harry had diarrhoea and it is logged that a vet advised to give him fluids, bananas, melon and biscuits in addition to his normal diet.

From 25th May the records show Harry’s health deteriorates and Yvonne makes several remarks of him being “extremely unwell”.

She told us, “I knew Harry wasn’t well. It’s there in the database.

“He was off form. I knew he wasn’t right. Harry had this thing - if he was in foul form - he would sit and cup his ears. On a side note, it could have been sensory overload, blocking things out. But I knew he wasn’t himself. Harry would sell his soul for onions, and he wasn’t having it. You’d know he wasn’t enjoying the grapes and onions when you gave them to him.

“I noticed he didn’t want to train or if he did, he’d half do it. I started writing down maybe someone needs to have a look and see. He wasn’t in great form.

“It was around two months before he died. I kept writing it down. I hoped someone would take me up on it.

“He wasn’t an old animal, he was 29, silverbacks they live until their 40s. There was no change in food, staff or his home. So, it had to be something else, something wasn’t right... I thought it warranted further investigation.

“No vet came until the very end. And there were very obvious signs of physical illness.

“I clearly recall about a week before a vet was called in but by then he was very unwell. He had liquid diarrhoea; something was not right here. I was asking, can someone please help him it’s not right. It’s Harry, we owed him, we have to do something.

“I know Harry was let down so badly. I know now animals should not be in zoos, they are not for captivity, you can call it what you like, enclosure, safety, conservation, but an animal should be in the wild. I actually knew when I joined the zoo it was wrong to be there, but I was a young student out of college. I left after Harry. It was over for me there.

“The person who owns the keys runs your life. The zoo decides when you eat, where you live, who you breed with and your whole life is laid out for you. They have no choice. We owed Harry so much more and I will never get over him. Never. I pray for him, I am glad he is dead because he is free, no more breeding, no more lock ups and no more control.”


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