Ndakasi, a female gorilla who became world famous after a selfie of her posing with a park ranger went viral in 2019, passed away on September 26 after a long illness, according to an October 5 announcement by Virunga National Park, where she lived. There was an immediate outpouring of grief on social media for Ndakasi, who had become a symbol of the fight to protect the gorillas who live in the mountains of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The photo that accompanied the announcement by Virunga National Park was particularly moving: it shows park ranger Andre Bauman sitting on the ground, cradling Ndakasi.
“On the evening of 26 September, following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated, Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma,” reads the statement published by Virunga.
Ndasaki became famous two years ago when another park ranger, Mathieu Shamavu, shared a selfie featuring Ndasaki and another gorilla standing on two legs, with their arms behind their backs. People across the world fell in love with the image, a reminder of the close links between gorillas and human beings.
>> Read on The Observers : DR Congo park ranger's selfie with gorillas goes viral
Ndakasi was born in 2007 and was orphaned as a baby when her mother was killed by a militia. Too vulnerable to return to the wild, Ndakasi lived in a centre with other orphan gorillas. She formed a special relationship with Andre Bauman, who began caring for her the day she was rescued.
“All night long, Andre held the baby close to him, keeping her tiny body tightly against his bare chest for warmth and comfort,” the statement by Virunga said of their first night together. The pair formed a unique bond.
Bauman shared a tribute to Ndakasi on the Virunga National Park website:
It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age [...] 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.
The violence in North Kivu province shaped Ndakasi’s story
Virunga National Park is located in North Kivu province, home to a number of armed groups that carry out frequent attacks on local people and, in some cases, have turned to poaching.
“Ndakasi embodied the spirit of Virunga and her story of survival is interwoven with that of the Park’s. The massacres of her family and other gorillas in 2007 led Congolese authorities to undertake extensive institutional and security reform within the Park. This significantly strengthened the protection of Virunga’s mountain gorillas and enabled the conditions that have contributed to the ongoing recovery of the species today,” the park said in its statement.
When Ndakasi was born, mountain gorillas were critically endangered. However, in the past 14 years, the number of gorillas “has grown by 47 percent – from 720 individuals in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021.”