Poppy, the last living gorilla featured in Dian Fossey’s 1983 book “Gorillas of the Mist,” is believed to have died, according to the famed naturalist’s nonprofit organization.
The female ape, who would have turned 43 on April 1, has not been observed by trackers since August, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund announced Tuesday.
Poppy was born on April Fools’ Day in 1976, nine years after Fossey set up a camp in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in 1967 as part of an effort to study the area’s vanishing mountain gorilla population, according to CNN.
“Being able to observe Poppy over so many stages of life gave researchers a wealth of knowledge,” Fund chief Tara Stoinski said.
“She taught us so much about the rich social and reproductive lives of female gorillas, their dominance structure, and of course, their personalities,” she added.
Fossey, who was murdered in Rwanda in 1985 at age 53, wrote about Poppy — a member of one of the mountain gorillas’ “royal families” — many times in her journals, calling her a “little darling … winsome and appealing. She could do no wrong.”
Poppy’s mother, Effie, was the legendary matriarch of a family whose members are scattered across many gorilla groups in the Volcanoes National Park.
Her sister Maggie was Sigourney Weaver’s favorite gorilla during the filming of 1988’s adaptation “Gorillas in the Mist,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards, including for her role as Fossey.
At age 41, Poppy became the oldest recorded mountain gorilla to give birth.
“Poppy broke the mold for what we know about mountain gorilla females — transferring at an older age, joining a very young and inexperienced male, having a baby so late in life,” said Veronica Vecellio, the Fossey Fund’s gorilla program’s senior adviser.
“It is so wonderful that we know about her infancy from Dian Fossey’s journals. She was one of Fossey’s favorites, and we all felt such privilege to know her and observe her in her final years. Surely, this means we will remember her forever,” Vecellio added.
When Fossey arrived in 1967, there were only 240 gorillas left. Five decades later, the population is thriving — with the latest census last year revealing 604 around as of June 2016.
Poppy stayed with Fossey’s Group 5 until November 1985, then joined the Susa group for three decades, during which she had several babies.
In 2015, Fossey Fund trackers spotted her in a group newly formed by young silverback Iyambere.
Poppy is survived by five thriving offspring, as well as a sister, Mahane.
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