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Rosie, North Carolina Zoo gorilla that passed away at 43, leaves behind lasting legacy

ASHEBORO, N.C. -- It was a sad day at the North Carolina Zoo. Rosie, a 43-year-old western lowland gorilla died. The zoo said the gorilla had an aggressive mass in her abdomen.

Rosie's face looks proud in a picture hanging over the gorilla exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo. It's now a reminder of the 43-year-old who passed away.

Jennifer Ireland is the curator of mammals at the zoo. She has worked with Rosie for years.

"Rosie was our oldest gorilla. And she was our matriarch, not just because of her age but because of her attitude," Ireland said.

She might have been the mom of the group, but Ireland said she was not always as Rosie as her name.

"The words that come to mind are feisty, grouchy, cantankerous. So, she just really had this big, big personality," she said.

The gorilla might have been a bit of a grump, but the faces inside the enclosure seem to show there's a sadness there.

"The day after she died, we could tell the rest of the group was looking around and wondering where Rosie went," Ireland said.

It's a loss that seems to be felt on both sides of the glass. Visitors coming for a trip to the zoo were saddened to hear one of the gorillas they've seen here for three years has passed away.

"I saw it on the news and I wasn't sure if this was the place. I asked her, and it's too bad you know," Joel Charette said.

Rosie leaves behind a big impact, not just for her troop her and for fans, but also for zoos across the nation.

"Yes, Rosie was a really historic gorilla in the population of gorillas in zoos. She was the first and only gorilla to go through in vitro fertilization," Ireland said.

The gorilla Rosie gave birth to later gave birth to another gorilla named Hadari. When she didn't take to him, Rosie wound up being a surrogate mother to him. She helped raise a number of other gorillas as well.

"She taught those gorillas appropriate social skills, how to behave in social groups. That formed them and who they became as well-functioning and well-formed gorillas in social groups," Ireland said.

That's something that will help gorillas in this zoo and others across the country for years to come.

Ireland says they are not sure if they will get another gorilla in Rosie's place. They are going to monitor the rest of the troop to see how they do in her absence. Right now, it looks like the gorillas are adapting fine without her.