Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla famous for photobombing her caretakers, has died at the age of 14.
She died on September 26 after a prolonged illness, the Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“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 Centre for more than a decade,” the park said.
“Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.”
The statement was accompanied with a poignant snap of Mr Bauma and Ndakasi as she lay in his arms.
The Senkekwe Centre, which is in the park, is the only place in the world that cares for orphaned mountain gorillas.
Ndakasi had been in the care of rangers, especially Mr Bauma, since she was found as a tiny two-month-old clinging to the body of her dead mother.
She was considered too vulnerable to return to the wild, and lived with other orphaned mountain gorillas at the centre.
“It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age,” Mr Bauma said.
“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.”
He said he was proud to have had Ndakasi as a friend.
“I loved her like a child and her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her,” he said.
“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.”
Ndakasi featured in several TV shows and films, including a documentary titled Virunga, but it was her 2019 photobomb that went global.
She appears in the snap with another female gorilla, named Ndeze. The pair appear to be naturals in front of the camera; one stands proudly in a power pose with her feet wide apart, while the other leans forward to make it into the shot alongside park ranger Mathieu Shamavu.
“Another day at the office…” Mr Shamavu wrote alongside the image, which swiftly went viral after being shared on Facebook.
When Ndakasi was born in 2007, mountain gorillas were critically endangered.
Her mother was shot by armed militia in one of scores of massacres of gorilla families. The killings led to legal changes that “significantly strengthened the protection of Virunga’s mountain gorillas”, the park’s statement said.
Since 2007, gorilla numbers have grown by 47 per cent – from 720 individuals to an estimated 1063 in 2021.
“The death of Ndakasi underscores the importance of protecting gorillas in their natural habitat, where they thrive and where their life expectancy is greatest,” the park said.