Ndakasi, mountain gorilla in famous selfie, dies at 14

André Bauma met Ndakasi when she was only 2 months old, just after she clung to her mother’s corpse. A decade later, Ndakasi died hanging on to Mr. Bauma. She was 14 years old.

Between these two embraces, Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla from the Democratic Republic of Congo, rose to world fame.

In 2019, Ndakasi and another female mountain gorilla, Ndeze, photobombed a selfie taken by a ranger in Virunga National Park in Congo, where they lived.

When the image was posted on Instagram, it went viral. It shows a park warden, Mathieu Shamavu, in a T-shirt and posing for a selfie, the two gorillas behind him. A gorilla looks over his left shoulder, chin down, a look from another day on his face, looking towards the camera. The other is leaning forward, as if determined to enter the shot, a hint of a smile on the edge of his mouth. Hi ! Behind them, another ranger, his hands behind his back, scrutinizes the scene intensely.

“YES, it’s real! The park wrote in a caption when the image was posted online. The photo delighted the internet and drew further attention to Ndakasi, who by then had already lived a remarkable life.

She was born in 2007 as a member of the Kabirizi group, one of eight gorilla families living in the 3,000 square mile park, located between Uganda and Rwanda. In the year he was born, there were only 720 mountain gorillas on the planet, according to the park. Today, that number has grown to over 1,000, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Mountain gorillas mainly live in the forests of national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Climate change, traps set to kill other animals, human encroachment and people with weapons are some of the biggest challenges for gorilla survival.

In April 2007, the Congolese park declared that its guards had found Ndakasi “clinging to the lifeless body of her mother, shot dead by armed militias a few hours earlier”.

With the baby gorilla’s parents absent, the rangers considered it too dangerous to leave her alone. They took her to a rescue center, where she met Mr. Bauma, the park said. “Andre held the baby close to him all night long,” the park said.

The killings of other mountain gorillas like Ndasaki’s family have led to significant improvements in security throughout the park. In 2009, a center focused on the care of orphaned mountain gorillas was established inside the park. Mr. Bauma becomes the manager.

In 2014, he and the gorillas were featured in a documentary called “Virunga”. By this point, Mr. Bauma and Ndasaki had come closer.

“I played with her, I fed her,” the BBC said, quoting Mr Bauma in 2014. “I can say I am her mother.”

On Wednesday, the park announced that Ndasaki died on September 26, after “a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated.”

On Thursday, the park said Mr. Bauma was unavailable for interviews.

But in a public statement, Bauma said that getting to know Ndakasi had “helped me understand the connection between humans and great apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them.”

“I loved her like a child,” he added, “and her cheerful personality made me smile every time I interacted with her.”

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