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Poppy, last gorilla made famous by Dian Fossey, presumed dead at age 43

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund News
For release May 28, 2019
Media contact: Erika Archibald, Ph.D. earchibald@gorillafund.org

(ATLANTA, May 28) – The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is sad to announce that Poppy, the last living gorilla featured by famed primatologist Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist,” is believed dead. She would have been 43 on April 1. 

Poppy was born into Fossey’s Group 5 on April Fools’ Day in 1976. It was an auspicious birthday for the playful young gorilla, who was full of personality. Fossey wrote about Poppy many times in her journals, calling her the group’s “little darling … winsome and appealing. She could do no wrong.”

Poppy was a member of one of the mountain gorillas’ “royal families.” Her mother, Effie, was the legendary matriarch of a family whose members are spread across many gorilla groups in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Other relatives include the famous silverbacks Cantsbee and Isabukuru. Her sister Maggie was Sigourney Weaver’s favorite gorilla while filming “Gorillas in the Mist.”

Her lineage was only one way she was remarkable. At 41, Poppy became the oldest recorded mountain gorilla to give birth. She was unique in that she was studied both in infancy and old age. “Being able to observe Poppy over so many stages of life gave researchers a wealth of knowledge,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, Fossey Fund President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer. “She taught us so much about the rich social and reproductive lives of female gorillas, their dominance structure, and of course, their personalities.”

She is remembered fondly by Fossey Fund staff in Rwanda. “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,” says Veronica Vecellio, Fossey Fund gorilla program senior advisor. “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.”

Poppy stayed with Group 5 until November 1985, just a few weeks before Fossey was killed. She then joined the Susa group, where she stayed for three decades, and was monitored by the Rwandan Development Board. During that time, she quickly rose in dominance and had several babies. In 2015, she was spotted by Fossey Fund trackers in a group newly formed by young silverback Iyambere.

In August 2018, Poppy was part of Iyambere’s group during a stressful period that caused the group to travel quickly over long distances and enter into deep ravines. When the group was clearly seen again, Poppy was not with them. Despite a long search, she has never been seen again.

She is survived by five thriving offspring, as well as a sister, Mahane, who has a new infant. In Poppy’s memory, supporters can adopt Mahane and her baby, and help Fossey Fund researchers continue the important legacy of Dian’s “little darling.”

Photos available. Contact Erika Archibald, earchibald@gorillafund.org