Congo’s famous mountain gorilla dies at 14 in Virunga Park

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Mathieu Shamavu, a ranger and caretaker at the Senkwekwe Center for Orphaned Mountain Gorillas, poses for a photo with female orphaned gorillas Ndakasi, left, and Ndeze, center, at the the Senkwekwe Center for Orphaned Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park, eastern Congo Thursday, April 18, 2019. The 14-year-old mountain gorilla Ndakasi, made famous in a selfie with her caretaker at the Virunga National Park in Congo, has died Sept. 26, 2021 after a long illness, the park said. (Mathieu Shamavu/Virunga National Park via AP)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla who famously posed for a selfie with a ranger 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 another ranger 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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Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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Updates to correct that the selfie photo was taken with another ranger and not Bauma.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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