Wed, February 7, 2018

Elderly mother Poppy raises new infant

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Mountain gorilla Poppy – at almost 42 years old – is not only the oldest gorilla monitored by the Fossey Fund, she’s also the last of the gorillas we monitor who was originally studied by Dian Fossey. And now, her long and interesting life has taken a new turn, as she cares for her newborn infant! This was a surprise, given her elder age. In our records, she is the oldest gorilla to give birth, with the previous oldest only in her mid-30s.

Poppy was born in a group of gorillas studied by Dian Fossey in 1976 (called Group 5) and stayed in that group until November 1985, just a few weeks before Fossey was killed.  At that time, she transferred to the Susa group, which is one of the groups monitored by Rwandan park authorities. As she grew up, Poppy quickly rose in status among the females, reaching the top level of dominance and giving birth to several infants. She stayed in this group for many years, as it grew very large and evolved.

In July 2015, following a stressful series of events in her group, she suddenly appeared in one of the groups we do monitor — called Iyambere’s group — and our field staff were delighted to see her again and resume our daily monitoring of her! It’s quite uncommon for a female this old to transfer groups.

We were surprised and delighted again when Poppy gave birth on Dec. 1, 2017, and can report that her infant is doing well so far and they are developing the special bond that we always see among gorilla mothers and their infants. This close bond is quite exclusive for the infant’s first four years, and the mother’s care reminds us so much of human love. Gorilla infants are totally dependent on their mothers for the first few years, with the mother carrying the infant. Mother and infant frequently gaze at each other lovingly, and the mother remains vigilant even as the infant begins to take its first few steps away from the mother’s arms. Luckily there are other infants in this group, ready to play with when Poppy’s infant gets a bit older.

Poppy and infant

Poppy is an experienced mother and is a grandmother as well. Five of her offspring are now adults, living in different groups. She hails from an historic matriarchal line of gorillas named for her mother, Effie. Effie’s descendants are now spread out in many groups within the Virunga mountains and are known for some common traits, including dominant personalities and facial similarities. Poppy’s younger sister Maggie was also followed throughout her life, first by Dian Fossey and then by the Fossey Fund.

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