The male gorilla Samson, a popular resident of Danish zoos since he arrived in 1972 from Cameroon, was found dead on Thursday.
The gorilla was estimated to have reached the age of 45.
While initially a resident of Copenhagen Zoo, Samson spent the last two decades of his life in Givskud Zoo in Jutland, where he was one of its most popular attractions. The gorilla even had his own Facebook page, which had over 12,000 likes.
Though an autopsy has yet to be conducted, the zoo believes that old age was responsible for Samson's parting.
Gorillas often only live to be 35–40 years of age, so the old silverback had a relatively long life. However, in his later years the animal suffered from a heart condition and was reliant on daily medication.
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“Like many old men, Samson had his own little pill container. He was on a daily regimen of medication to compensate for his poor heart function. His advanced age, coupled with the fact that he had lost a lot of weight recently, indicated that we presumably would not have him around much longer,” Givskud Zoo director Richard Østerballe explained in a press release.
On Facebook, hundreds of Samson's fans shared fond memories of their experiences with him over the years.
“R.I.P. little Samson. The best place in Givskud was with Samson and his family,” wrote one of his admirers, Jeanette.
Many of the 1600 commenters also considered Samson a treasured part of their childhood memories.
"R.I.P. I remember the first time I met him. He could really make you laugh and would always make these funny facial expressions. A gorilla that you could only love," another Facebook fan, Emil, wrote.
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Another fan, Sophia Anastasia, recounted a special experience she had with Samson last year.
“Nooo, we had this moment in September. I was alone in there and he walked up to me, sat in front of me, and we just stared at each other for 15 minutes. It was the craziest thing I had ever experienced, standing so close and maintaining eye contact with such a massive wild animal,” she wrote.
That memory may not have been as fond for the silverback however, male gorillas typically interpret eye contact and smiling as a form of aggressive display.
A zoo in Rotterdam now forces all visitors to wear special goggles following an incident in 2007 where Bokito, the male silverback, broke out of its enclosure to violently attack a woman who had been coming to the zoo regularly to ‘connect’ with the great ape by smiling at him.
In any event, Samson’s fans will be comforted to know that he did manage to pass his genes on, having fathered eight offspring over the years. One of them, Kipenzi, will remain in Givskud Zoo and can look forward to being the new leading silverback at the zoo’s breeding program.