Park ranger Andre Bauma has been taking care of orphaned mountain gorillas at Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, for the past seven years, and he says he loves them as if they were his own children.
One gorilla, Ndakasi, is particularly close to Bauma. She sees him as her mother, and despite being a man – and a human to boot – he has taken on that role. “We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her… I can say I am her mother,” he says.
They met in terrible circumstances. Ndakasi was a two-month-old infant when her mother was shot at close range through the back of the head – the park describes it as an “execution”. Ndakasi was still clinging to her dead mother when they found her. “She was tiny, she only weighed a couple of kilos,” says Bauma. Ever since he picked her up from the forest floor, he has dedicated his life to saving hers.
“Every single individual gorilla is crucial because it’s an endangered species – so we had to take care of it, we took her in,” he says
Ndakasi was born into a renowned group of mountain gorillas called the Rugendo family, seven of whose members were slaughtered in the attack in 2007 that orphaned Ndakasi.
Illegal charcoal traders, engaged in a constant struggle with park rangers, are thought to have been behind the shootings.
The law says no human activity of any kind is allowed inside the park – located in the Democratic Republic of Congo – and the rangers are there to prevent it. It’s a dangerous job – since 1996, more than 130 rangers have been killed. “We are constantly threatened, not only by the militias inside the park but also in general by the population,” says Bauma. “There is a lot of poverty, so people try to survive. They will try to use the natural resources of the park, whether it be wood to make charcoal, fields for agriculture or illegal fishing.” See more photos after the cut…
Nedzi, a mountain Gorilla living in Virunga National Park, laughs with a park ranger
A gorilla leans on a ranger’s boot in a still from the film
A ranger oversees the park