“It is with heartfelt sadness that Virunga announces the death of beloved orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi,” the park tweeted, adding that her condition “rapidly deteriorated.” The park did not specify her illness.
Bauma, who was not made available for an interview, said in a statement that it was “a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature.”
“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,” he said. “I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend.”
Ndakasi went viral in 2019 after she and another orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndeze, struck a pose just as park ranger Mathieu Shamavu took a selfie. The image, which features the gorillas playfully peering toward the camera in hilarious fashion as Shamavu takes a serious selfie, brought instant joy to the Internet and had people wondering if the image was too good to be true.
“YES, it’s real!” the park wrote in a caption when the image was posted to Instagram on April 22, 2019.
But Ndakasi had already lived an interesting life before the photobomb. Born in 2007 at the park that sits between Uganda and Rwanda, Ndakasi’s life began at a time when mountain gorillas were critically endangered. There were only 720 mountain gorillas on the planet in 2007, according to the park — a number that has since swelled to more than 1,000.
Her life started with tragedy. In April 2007, rangers at the Congolese park found a 2-month-old Ndakasi “clinging to the lifeless body of her mother, gunned down by armed militia hours earlier,” park officials said in a statement. Her mother’s death was part of a series of massacres of gorilla families in the region that led the park to strengthen the protection of its mountain gorillas, they added.
Understanding how dangerous it would be to leave the mountain gorilla by herself, vulnerable to people with guns and human encroachment, rangers brought Ndakasi to the park’s rescue center. It’s there that she met Bauma.
“All night long, Andre held the baby close to him,” the park said in a statement.
Two years later, the park developed the Senkwekwe Center, the only facility in the world that looks after orphaned mountain gorillas, and Bauma became its manager.
It didn’t take long for Ndakasi and Bauma’s bond to grow. By the time Ndakasi was featured in the 2014 documentary “Virunga,” with Leonardo DiCaprio as an executive producer, Bauma told the BBC that he was more than a caretaker and friend to her.
“We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her,” he said. “I can say I am her mother.”
Then, Ndakasi showed her personality in an image that received about 97,000 likes and worldwide adulation for what people thought were surprising poses.
“Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities!” the park wrote at the time. “It’s no surprise to see these girls on their two feet either — most primates are comfortable walking upright (bipedalism) for short bursts of time.”
Shamavu was not surprised by the photobomb from Ndakasi and Ndeze, posting a caption that read, “Another day at the office …”
Bauma, who is pictured wearing a mask and looking devastated as his friend dies in his arms, said that while she would be missed by everyone at Virunga, “we are forever grateful for the richness Ndakasi brought to our lives during her time at Senkwekwe.”
“I loved her like a child, and her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her,” he said.