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Congo's famous mountain gorilla dies at 14 after illness

Mathieu Shamavu, a ranger and caretaker at the Senkwekwe Center for Orphaned Mountain Gorillas, took a photo with female orphaned gorillas Ndakasi, left, and Ndeze at the center in Virunga National Park in eastern Congo in 2019. The 14-year-old Ndakasi died Sept. 26 after a long illness, the park said.

KINSHASA, Congo — 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 had 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.

Ndakasi’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.”