On the first night Andre Bauma, the caretaker met Ndakasi, he held "the baby close to him, keeping her tiny body tightly against his bare chest for warmth and comfort."
In 2007, rangers at the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo came across a 2-month-old mountain gorilla clutching the lifeless body of her mother who had been murdered by poachers.
They took her in and named her Ndakasi. "With no other family members present, rangers quickly recuperated the infant gorilla and transferred her to a rescue center in Goma," per the national park's official website. That's where she first encountered Andre Bauma, a caretaker at the park's gorilla orphanage.
On the first night at the orphanage, Bauma never left her side. "All night long, Andre held the baby close to him, keeping her tiny body tightly against his bare chest for warmth and comfort." Because she was given adequate medical aid and showered with lots and lots of love, she survived, but "the trauma of losing her family coupled with a long period of rehabilitation meant that Ndakasi was too vulnerable to return to the wild."
Eventually, she went on to become a healthy and happy member at the Senkwekwe Center, which was created in 2009. It became her home for 11 years.
During her period at the Center, Ndakasi rose to fame. Her life "was well documented and her heartwarming personality was featured in several shows and films, including the documentary Virunga, where she can be seen consumed in laughter while being tickled by a caretaker." But, the real moment she rose to fame was when a selfie of hers went viral in 2019.
"The photo features Ndakasi and her partner-in-crime, Ndeze, both standing relaxed on two feet, bellies out with cheeky grins."
Ndakasi lived her life to the fullest, but unfortunately, it was cut short. "On the evening of 26 September, following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated, Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma," the park shared on Facebook.
Bauma himself shared an emotional message about being the famous gorilla's caretaker. “It was a privilege to support and care for such a loving creature, especially knowing the trauma Ndakasi suffered at a very young age," he said.
"One could say that she took after her mother, Nyiransekuye, whose name means “someone happy to welcome others.” 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 added: "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.”
Ndakasi may be gone, but she will never be forgotten!
Cover Image Source: Instagram | Virunga National Park (@virunganationalpark)