IT WAS early on Sunday morning when Graeme Strachan heard the wail of chimpanzees.
That was nothing out of the ordinary. He lives close to the Rockhampton Zoo where, as its life science co-ordinator, he interacted regularly with the four exuberant primates.
What Graeme did not realise was that the sounds had come from three frantic chimps, most likely on discovering their companion Ockie close to death.
A phone call at 8am was to deliver the heartbreaking news.
By the time Graeme got to the zoo and rushed to the chimp enclosure, he found Cassie, Holly and Samantha hunched over the lifeless body of Ockie.
"They spent a lot of time trying to revive him," Graeme said. "At one stage it looked like Holly was practising CPR on him."
Zoo staff and visitors watched on; fixated at the reaction of the chimps which closely mirrored the anguish and sorrow of a human being watching a loved one slip away.
Several hours later, the trio wandered away, realising that Ockie was gone.
His death at age 38 sent shockwaves through the close-knit zoo team and wider community.
Ockie was buried just metres from the chimp enclosure. A commemorative plaque will be installed on a rock in the landscaped garden to serve as a lasting reminder of the colourful character so loved by so many.
"I loved him to bits," Graeme said. "He touched a lot of people's lives and in a lot of ways people wouldn't realise."
"It's the end of a chapter with old Ockie but it's certainly not the end. We are very committed to the ongoing program with the chimps at Rockhampton."
A memorial service was held on Tuesday to farewell Ockie and celebrate his life.
During his speech, Graeme often referred to the mischievous chimp like a mate, remembering his multidimensional personality.
"Ockie could be the most tender, loving and affectionate chimp but then turn into the angry man five times stronger than us.
"But sad to say, our Ockie was a worrier. He stressed a lot. He didn't like change."
Ockie was spirited, bordering on feisty, although he began to "mellow quite a bit in his later years".
He could spit with pinpoint accuracy and he found his mark with several zookeepers and, on occasion, official guests at various functions at the zoo.
His body language was powerful and it quickly became clear if he favoured you or didn't.
Graeme remembers his first meeting with Ockie in 2008. He was greeted by a bright and alert chimp, who was very responsive.
But one of his most endearing traits was the way in which he put his faith in humans.
When pressed for his favourite memory of Ockie, Graeme pauses to carefully reflect.
"Favourite memory... So many, so many," his voice softening.
Then it comes to him. Cassie had to be sedated to allow vets to x-ray his injured wrist and do some dental work.
"Ockie was very calm and very trusting," Graeme said. "Normally if they see that happening to another chimp, they are very upset but he seemed to understand we were trying to help Cassie, not harm him."
It is clearly an emotional time but Graeme is determined to remember the good times spent with the "gentle giant".
Life must go on but it is clear there will always be a special place for Ockie.
"Luv ya, miss ya Ockie, but know your legacy will go on," Graeme said, as he gazed wistfully into the chimp enclosure where his good friend spent his last hours.
ROCKHAMPTON'S CHERISHED CHIMPS
Ockie and Cassie arrived at the Rockhampton Zoo in 1986. They were relocated from the Gold Coast after the zoo where they were residents was closed.
The specially designed chimpanzee enclosure at Rockhampton was completed in late 2009 and was officially opened in March 2010.
The females - Holly and Samantha - arrived in January 2012, relocated from New South Wales. They are genetically valuable because they are not related to any other chimps in the Australasian region.
The Rockhampton chimps are the only chimps in captivity in Queensland and among only 50 in captivity in Australasia. The biggest groups are at Taronga Zoo in Sydney and Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.
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