The 14-year-old mammal “took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma,” the Virunga National Park said in a statement. She passed away after battling a long illness in the park’s Senkwekwe Center, where she resided for over a decade.
Caretaker Bauma became close with Ndakasi after she was found by national park rangers clinging to the corpse of her mother. “It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age,” Bauma said in his own statement. He added that the gorilla’s “sweet nature and intelligence” aided him in helping him “understand the connection between humans and Great Apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them.”
“I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend,” he added. “I loved her like a child and her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her. 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.”
Ndakasi went viral in 2019 for striking a pose alongside another orphaned gorilla named Ndeze in a selfie taken by Bauma. “YES, it’s real!” Virunga National Park wrote in the caption on Instagram. “Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities! Also, 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.”
The park added in its statement that “Over the course of [Ndakasi’s] life,” her “species has grown by 47% – from 720 individuals in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021,” Gorilla massacres like the one that killed Ndakasi’s mother had led to major reforms that “significantly strengthened the protection of Virunga’s mountain gorillas,” the park added.