Viral gorilla from 2019 selfie dies in arms of ‘lifelong friend’

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An orphaned mountain gorilla in Africa, whose ultra-smooth selfie with a park ranger went viral, died in the arms of her caretaker and “lifelong friend,” officials announced.

Ndakasi passed away on Sept. 26 after she “rapidly deteriorated” following a prolonged illness, park officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The 14-year-old female primate became a social media sensation in 2019 when she hilariously photobombed park ranger Mathiew Shamavu at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pic shows Ndakasi and fellow orphaned gorilla Ndeze coolly posing behind Shamavu with cheeky grins on their faces.

“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,” the park said. “Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.”

Ndakasi died in the arms of her life-long ranger, Mathiew Shamavu at Virunga National Park on September 26, 2021.
Ndakasi died in the arms of her life-long ranger, Mathiew Shamavu at Virunga National Park on September 26, 2021.
Ndakasi, who first rose to fame after posing for a selfie with the park ranger who took care of her.
Ndakasi, who first rose to fame after posing for a selfie with the park ranger who took care of her.
Virunga National Park

The Senkwekwe Center inside the 3,100-square-mile park in eastern Congo is the only facility worldwide that cares for orphaned mountain gorillas. Ndakasi was only two months old when Virunga rangers discovered her in April 2007, clinging to the body of her mother who had been gunned down by armed militia members just hours earlier.

Rangers then nursed the infant gorilla back to health and transferred her to a rescue center in Goma, where she first met Bauma, park officials said.

“All night long, Andre held the baby close to him, keeping her tiny body tightly against his bare chest for warmth and comfort,” the park said Tuesday. “She survived; however, the trauma of losing her family coupled with a long period of rehabilitation meant that Ndakasi was too vulnerable to return to the wild.”

In 2009, Ndakasi was then transferred with fellow orphaned gorilla Ndeze to the Senkwekwe Center, where she enjoyed a peaceful life with her primate pals for more than 11 years.

Ndakasi was born in 2007 when mountain Gorilla numbers were dangerously low.
Ndakasi was born in 2007 when mountain Gorilla numbers were dangerously low.
Virunga National Park

“Their playful nature was a reminder to the world of how much we see ourselves in these animals and it’s one of the reasons Andre Bauma will miss her so dearly,” park officials said.

A photo shows Bauma holding Ndakasi during her final moments. The gorilla’s head rests on his chest in the somber shot.

“It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age,” Bouma 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.”

Bouma said he loved Ndakasi “like a child” and cherished her “cheerful personality” in the face of her traumatic past.

Female mountain gorillas Ndeze and Ndakasi
Female mountain gorillas Ndeze and Ndakasi after being orphaned were taken to the Virunga National Park.
REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

“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,” Bouma said.

The global population of mountain gorillas was critically endangered when Ndakasi was born in 2007, but the species has grown some 47 percent to an estimated 1,063 this year, park officials said.

“The death of Ndakasi underscores the importance of protecting gorillas in their natural habitat, where they thrive and where their life expectancy is greatest,” the park said.

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