An orphaned mountain gorilla named Ndakasi has died at the age of 14.
Ndakasi became a social media sensation in 2019 after a Virunga National Park ranger took a selfie of himself with her and another orphaned simian named Ndeze.
Mathieu Shamavu posted a photo of himself and the two gorillas on Instagram and the world took note.
This week Ndakasi is pictured in a far more sobering Instagram post, lying at the end of her life in the arms of Andrew Bauma, the ranger who rescued her as an orphaned baby and cared for her for the rest of her life.
Ndakasi was found by Bauma in 2007 when she was two months old, clinging to her mother’s dead body.
Her mother had been gunned down by army militia looking for bushmeat. The trauma of her family’s massacre is something from which Ndakasi never fully recovered, and she was not able to be returned to the wild.
The rangers took Ndakasi and fellow orphan Ndeze to the Senkwekwe Centre at Virunga National Park (in eastern Congo) for special care.
According to a park statement, Ndakasi died September 26 after a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated.
The park also tweeted about Ndakasi’s death.
NBC reports that the animal’s harsh start in life ended up being of benefit to mountain gorillas, as the massacres like the one that killed Ndakasi’s mother prompted Congolese authorities to take steps to protect the animals. At the time she was born, mountain gorillas were critically endangered.
Over her life span, the species grew by more than 40%, from the 720 who were alive in 2007 to the 1,063 alive now. Many of those animals are in Virunga.
“It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age,” said Bauma in a statement.
Noting that he was proud to have called Ndakasi his friend, Bauma 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.”