One of the two female mountain gorillas who went viral on social media in 2019 after posing for a selfie with their caretaker has passed away at the age of 14. In a statement on Tuesday, the Virunga National Park, which is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Ndakasi succumbed to a prolonged illness on September 26.
“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,” the statement said, according to CNN.
“Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.”
Stationed within the park, the Senkekwe Center is the only facility in the world that provides refuge for orphaned mountain gorillas. Ndakasi had been under Bauma’s care since 2007 after Virunga rangers found her holding on to her deceased mother who had been shot by armed militia. She was two months old at the time.
And though Ndakasi eventually survived, officials determined she was too vulnerable to return to the wild. She was subsequently moved to the Senkwekwe Center where she lived with other 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. 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.
“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.”
Per the park, Ndakasi was born during a period “when the global population of mountain gorillas was fragile and critically endangered.” The killing of her family and other mountain gorillas led authorities in the Central African country to “undertake extensive institutional and security reform within the Park.”
“Over the course of her life, however, the species has grown by 47%–from 720 individuals in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021,” the statement added.
Ndakasi and another mountain gorilla, Ndeze, went viral in 2019 after a selfie photo of them standing and striking a pose with Bauma was circulated on social media.