The gorilla who found viral fame when she posed for a selfie has died “in the loving arms” of the ranger who rescued her as an orphaned infant.
Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), died after a long illness aged 14 on the evening of September 26. Virunga National Park said that the gorilla took her final breaths while in the arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.
In 2019, Ndakasi and another female mountain gorilla named Ndeze rose to fame after appearing to photobomb a selfie taken by another anti-poaching ranger, Mathieu Shamavu, at the Virunga National Park in the DRC. Standing upright with their bellies out, the rangers said they believed the gorilla duo were trying to imitate their human caretakers.
The photograph quickly went viral after it was shared on Instagram by the Virunga National Park in April 2019. They wrote in the caption: “We’ve received dozens of messages about the photo. YES, it’s real! Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities!”
Even before this brush with fame, Ndakasi led a very eventful life. Born in April 2007, Ndakasi was rescued when she was two months old after rangers found her clinging to the lifeless body of her mother, shot dead at close range by an armed militia just hours earlier as part of a series of killings of gorilla families. The baby gorilla was rescued by the rangers and taken to a rehabilitation center where she was first introduced to Andre. The pair quickly grew inseparable.
"We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her… I can say I am her mother," Andre told BBC World Service in a 2014 interview.
As an infant, Ndakasi developed severe pneumonia just two weeks into her care and the young gorilla grew weak. Against all odds, she survived. Although she was too vulnerable to return to the wild, Ndakasi enjoyed a happy life alongside her rangers and other orphaned mountain gorillas.
When she was born in 2007, mountain gorillas were critically endangered and faced a huge amount of pressure from poachers and civil conflict. Things are still not easy for mountain gorillas, but the species is now in a much better place. Over the course of Ndakasi's life, the species' population increased by almost 50 percent in size from 720 individuals in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021.
Ndakasi has now tragically passed away at a young age (gorillas in captivity can live for up to 50 years), but the rangers at Virunga say that her spirit of survival and resilience still lives on in the national park.
“It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age,” Andre said in a statement following the gorilla’s death.
“It was Ndakasi’s sweet nature and intelligence that helped me to understand the connection between humans and Great Apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them. I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend. I loved her like a child and her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her,” he added.
“She will be missed by all of us at Virunga but we are forever grateful for the richness Ndakasi brought to our lives during her time at Senkwekwe.”
Corrected 08/10/2021: This article originally said the population of mountain gorillas had doubled between 2007 and 2021. It has been corrected to say "the species' population increased by almost 50 percent."