Orphaned Gorilla Dies in the Arms of Her Rescuer

He first comforted her when she was an infant more than a decade ago.

Ndakasi lies in the arms of her caretaker, Andre Bauma
Ndakasi is cradled by her caretaker, Andre Bauma, shortly before her death. Brent Stirton / Getty Images

A tiny mountain gorilla was found clinging to her mother's still body more than a decade ago. The 2-month-old baby had just been orphaned in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo after armed militia members had gunned down her mother.

Finding no other family members nearby, Virunga rangers scooped up the baby and took her to their rescue center in Goma. There she met keeper Andre Bauma who would become her caretaker and lifelong friend, according to the park.

Bauma rocked the gorilla—named Ndakasi—and held her close to his bare chest for comfort and warmth. Now, more than a decade later, when Ndakasi was ill, she took her last breath in Bauma's arms.

Ndakasi's condition rapidly deteriorated following a long illness, according to the park. He was with her in the end at the Senkwekwe Center, the only facility in the world that cares for orphaned mountain gorillas.

“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 a statement.

"One could say that she took after her mother, Nyiransekuye, whose name means 'someone happy to welcome others.' 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. I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend. 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.”

Becoming a Viral Star

Although baby Ndakasi survived her harrowing early days after being rescued in 2007, the initial trauma she experienced along with her rehabilitation period meant that she could never be released back into the wild.

So she and another orphaned gorilla, Ndeze, were transferred to the Senkwekwe Center after it was opened in 2009.

Ndakasi became a star for her heartwarming personality and was featured in several shows including the documentary, "Virunga." In that film, Ndakasi is shown laughing while she is tickled by a caretaker.

Ndakasi also had a viral moment on Earth Day in 2019 when she and Ndeze were photographed by two caretakers in a selfie. The image was so arresting, that many people thought it was manipulated.

"YES, it’s real!" the park posted on social media. "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."

Helping Her Species

Aside from the sweetness and silly moments, Ndakasi's story helped make a difference for her species.

The killing of her family and other gorillas in 2007 prompted authorities to make institutional and security reforms in the park. This strengthen protections for the park's mountain gorilla population and helped contribute to the species continuing recovery, the park says.

Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) were changed from critically endangered to endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2018. According to Virunga, the species has grown by 47% from 720 individuals in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021.

Founded in 1925 as Albert National Park, Virunga was the first national park in Africa. It was created primarily to protect mountain gorillas living in the forest. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most biologically diverse protected area and national park on the continent.

View Article Sources
  1. "Ndakasi." Parc National Des Virunga.

  2. "Fin Whale, Mountain Gorilla Recovering Thanks to Conservation Action- IUCN Red List." International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2018.

  3. "Welcome to Africa's Oldest National Park." Parc National Des Virunga.