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Opinion: A gorilla's life and death, in 2 viral photos

RUMANGABO, VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO - SEPTEMBER 21: Orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi, lies in the arms of her caregiver, Andre Bauma, on September 21, 2021 shortly before her death, which the park confirmed on September 26. Mr Bauma and others at the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Center had cared for Ndakasi and other orphans for 13 years. Ndakasi had suffered a prolonged illness prior to her death. This is the only mountain gorilla orphanage in the world and takes in mountain gorilla orphans who have lost their families to poaching or conflict. A number of the orphans here were rescued from sales by poachers in sting operations carried out by Congolese National Park Authority (ICCN) rangers. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
Orphaned mountain gorilla Ndakasi lies in the arms of her caregiver Andre Bauma on Sept. 21, shortly before her death.

There's a photo that went viral in 2019, of two mountain gorillas behind a park ranger as he snaps a selfie in Congo's Virunga National Park.One gorilla seems to glance over at the human with all the merely mild interest of a New Yorker, waiting on a subway platform, her hands at her side, as if rammed into imaginary pockets. The second gorilla, just behind the ranger, seems to lean into the shot, as if to say, "Hello! Look who's here, too!"That's Ndakasi, whose death at the age of 14 was reported this week, by Virunga National Park. Ndakasi had been in the park since she was 2. Rangers found her shortly after her mother and other members of their family had been slaughtered by armed militia. The baby gorilla came into the care of a ranger named Andre Bauma.They changed each other's lives."She was tiny, she only weighed a couple of kilos," he told a 2014 BBC program. "We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her."Ndakasi grew up to be strong and healthy — she liked Pringles, the snack chip — but stayed playful."Whenever she sees me, she climbs on my back like she would with her mother," Bauma told the BBC. He became the head of the orphanage at the park and would spend three weeks there, then one week at home."My human family understand that my work with the gorillas is important," he said. "I have a share of love that I give to my gorilla family and a share of love that I give to my human family."This week, another photo went around the world. Ndakasi, looking weary and nearing death, was curled up with her great head, her eyes soft, on Bauma's strong shoulder. They looked like two beings giving solace, company and comfort to each other at a time of need.Bauma said in a statement from the orphanage at Virunga National Park that knowing Ndakasi has "helped me to understand the connection between humans and great apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them.""I loved her like a child," he said. "Her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her."Two strong, playful spirits in the world who found each another. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.