Famous orphaned gorilla dies in arms of caregiver who saved her as a baby

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Orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi, lies in the arms of her caregiver, Andre Bauma, on September 21, 2021 shortly before her death, which the park confirmed on September 26. Mr Bauma and others at the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Center had cared for Ndakasi and other orphans for 13 years. Ndakasi had suffered a prolonged illness prior to her death. This is the only mountain gorilla orphanage in the world and takes in mountain gorilla orphans who have lost their families to poaching or conflict. A number of the orphans here were rescued from sales by poachers in sting operations carried out by Congolese National Park Authority (ICCN) rangers. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla who famously posed for a selfie with her caretaker at Congo’s Virunga National Park, has died at 14 after a long illness, the park said.

“It is with heartfelt sadness that Virunga announces the death of beloved orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi, who had been under the care of the park’s Senkwekwe Center for more than a decade,” a statement from the park said this week.

“Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma,” said the statement, adding that she died on Sept. 26 following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated.

Ndakasi was just two months old when rangers found her clinging to the lifeless body of her mother who had been gunned down by armed militia in 2007. Bauma comforted her that first night by holding her to his bare chest and he continued caring for her since then. She was transferred to the Senkwekwe Center after its creation in 2009 and lived with other orphaned mountain gorillas viewed as too vulnerable to return to the wild.

The mountain gorilla’s life was featured in shows and the documentary film “Virunga,” and she gained internet fame in 2019 for a photo that featured her standing relaxed on two feet, with her belly out next to another gorilla, Ndeze, and with Bauma in the foreground taking the selfie.

“It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature,” Bauma said in a statement. “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.”

Bauma said he was proud to have called Ndakasi a friend.

“I loved her like a child and her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her,” he said in the statement.

Virunga National Park in eastern Congo is home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas. Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda also have some of the mountain gorillas and together their population is more than 1,000.

Nearly 700 rangers in Virunga park risk their lives to protect its wildlife in a region that has seen more than two decades of armed conflict and instability.

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