Mountain gorilla who became selfie star dies in the arms of her caretaker

A mountain gorilla whose picture went viral after she photobombed a park ranger's selfie has died at 14.

Ndakazi "took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma," a statement from the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday.

She died last month after battling a prolonged illness at the park's Senkwekwe Center where she had lived for more than a decade, the statement added.

Bauma had looked after Ndakasi ever since she was found clinging to her dead mother's body by national park rangers and taken to the center which is known for taking care of orphaned mountain gorillas, the statement said.

Her mother had been shot by armed militia as part of a series of killings of gorilla families, it added.

"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 a statement.

He added that Ndakasi's "sweet nature and intelligence" had helped him "to understand the connection between humans and Great Apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them."

"I am proud to have called Ndakasi my friend," he said. "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."

Ndakazi made headlines in 2019 when she struck a pose with another orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndeze, as park ranger Mathieu Shamavu took a selfie.

Virunga National Park posted the picture on Instagram shortly after it went viral, saying, "YES, it’s real!"

It also told people not to be shocked by the gorillas' poses. "It's no surprise to see these girls on their two feet either — most primates are comfortable walking upright (bipedalism) for short bursts of time," it said.

After Ndakasi died, the park's statement said that massacres like the one that killed her mother had ultimately led to major reforms that "significantly strengthened the protection of Virunga's mountain gorillas."

Over the course of her life, her species grew by 47 percent from 720 mountain gorillas in 2007 to an estimated 1,063 in 2021, with much of the population existing in Virunga, it added.