Mountain Gorilla Who Became an Internet Selfie Sensation Dies in Arms of Keeper and Friend

An orphaned mountain gorilla who became an internet sensation after a selfie of her with her keeper went viral has died.

Virunga National Park said Ndakasi died on the evening of September 26, following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated. The press release from the park added that the gorilla took her dying breaths in the arms of her rescuer, caretaker, and friend, Andre Bauma.

"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 the press release. "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."

Ndakasi was brought to the park in 2007 at just two months old, after rangers from the national park in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo found her clinging to the body of her mother, Nyiransekuye. The gorilla, whose name meant "someone happy to welcome others," had been gunned down by armed militia hours before and the rest of Ndakasi's family were missing.

The young gorilla was taken to a rescue center in Goma where she met Bauma for the first time. The keeper cradled the gorilla through the night, providing body heat and comfort.

Though Ndakasi survived, the park said that she was too traumatized by the loss of her family and vulnerable as a result of a long rehabilitation period to return to the wild. She was transferred to the Senkwekwe Center at Virunga National Park after it was founded in 2009.

The Senkwekwe Center remains the only facility in the world that cares for orphaned mountain gorillas like Ndakasi. Experts in the center help care for and rehabilitate gorillas affected by poaching and other human activities, providing the chance for the primates to lead happy, secure lives.

In her 11 years at the park, Ndakasi's life was documented in several TV shows and films. While these appearances allowed the general public to get to know Ndakasi's warm and playful nature, it was a selfie published on Earth Day 2019 that catapulted her to internet stardom.

The image shows Ndakasi and her partner-in-crime, Ndeze, who arrived at the park with her, behind Bauma, standing on two feet with almost mischievous grins on their faces.

"Their playful nature was a reminder to the world of how much we see ourselves in these animals and it's one of the reasons Andre Bauma will miss her so dearly," park officials said of the image.

Selfie Gorilla
A selfie taken with mountain gorilla Ndakasi became a viral hit. The gorilla died on September 26. Virunga National Park.

Ndakasi's influence went beyond entertainment. The park points out that it was the plight of the gorilla and her family in 2007 that influenced the Congolese authorities to undertake extensive institutional and security reform within the Virunga National Park.

"This significantly strengthened the protection of Virunga's mountain gorillas and enabled the conditions that have contributed to the ongoing recovery of the species today," the park says. "Ndakasi was born at a time when the global population of mountain gorillas was fragile and critically endangered."

The population of mountain gorillas has grown by 47 percent since 2007, from 720 to an estimated 1,063 gorillas in 2021.

"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," Bauma concluded. "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."

Andre Bauman with Ndakasi and Ndeze
(Left) Keeper Andre Bauman with Ndakasi and her partner in crime Ndeze in happier times. (Right) Bauman cradles Ndakasi in her final moments, just as he did on her first night at a rescue center. Virunga National Park