Story by Megan Boatwright Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Hundreds of people turned out Saturday to remember the Chattanooga Zoo's most famous resident.
"Hank the Chimpanzee" died last month.
He was 42-years-old, and may have had heart trouble.
Hank's death is one of 10 recent animal deaths at the zoo.
Now a federal inspection links at least four of those deaths to animal care at the facility.
At the end of the service the floor was opened for public comment.
There was no shortage of tears as people shared memory after memory of Hank and the profound impact he had on their lives.
It was a day of celebration and remembrance of everything the life of one chimpanzee meant to the Chattanooga Zoo and community.
"I guess it was therapy for her because she always wanted to come back. She loves Hank, I mean that's all she talks about Hank, Hank, Hank," says Annette McGuire.
Tears flowed throughout the service for 18-year-old Christai Ramsey. Mom, Annette, says she felt a special bond to the chimp.
"Anything she couldn't tell anybody else, she could tell Hank," says McGuire.
It seemed everyone in the room felt some bond to Hank. One couple even shared how he served as their best man in a vow renewal ceremony.
Zoo Director Darde Long was with Hank for 25 of the 34 years he called the zoo home.
"I'm excited about the number of people that came out in this awful weather," says Long.
It has been a tough road for Long since Hank's death. Now a newly released USDA inspection report confirms animal care problems could have contributed to at least four of 10 recent animal deaths.
"USDA inspects us at least once a year. We've had a variety of things we've had to fix and that's the importance of having an inspection," says Long.
Long acknowledged a scheduling error in two deaths, but defended the daily care her keepers provide.
"We've spent hours in meetings at the management level and with our staff to make sure we can't be too busy, ever, with other priorities," says Long.
But Saturday, she says, is a chance to push everything else aside and focus on Hank, his life and legacy.
"I'm deeply grateful for people who came out and shared stories that even I don't know about," says Long.
Long has said the zoo will appeal some of the non-compliance items listed in the USDA report, including the inspectors issue with on a pregnant snow leopard locked out of shelter in bad weather.
Two cubs were later found dead in the exhibit. The director counters the zoo took precautions following the advice of their vet based on the information at hand.
"We were not given ultra sounds or tests that we knew she was pregnant. We treated her as our vet told us to follow her normal routine, but the chance that she was really pregnant was so remote that I don't think anyone on this staff truly could believe. Because after all, snow leopard births are in fact something we all wish for and pray for," says Long.
Long says the one leopard that survived is doing well and will be on display within three to four weeks.