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Ndakasi and Virunga National Park ranger André Bauma.

Fourteen years ago, Ndakasi the mountain gorilla was found clinging to her dead mother in the Congo after bushmeat hunters wiped out her entire family. This week it was announced that she recently passed away in the arms of Virunga National Park ranger André Bauma, the man who rescued her.

Bauma served as Ndakasi's caretaker since he brought her to the park's Senkwekwe Center, where she was rehabilitated along with another orphaned gorilla named Ndeke. Unable to be safely returned to the wild, Ndakasi lived her life in Virunga, where mountain gorilla conservation is a priority.

The park shared a touching photo and announcement of Ndakasi's passing on Facebook. The gorilla had been suffering from a prolonged illness, and her condition had rapidly deteriorated. A photo shows Bauma sitting on a blanket leaning up against the wall with Ndakasi lying next to him, her head on his chest and her toes gripping his boot.

"Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, André Bauma," reads the post.


So beautiful.

"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. "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. 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."

André Bauma has said that he cares for the gorillas at Senkwekwe Center as if they were his own children. And in Ndakasi's case, she quite literally was.

"We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her … I can say I am her mother," he told the BBC in 2014.

Mountain gorillas are endangered, so the protection of every gorilla counts.

Being a park ranger in the Congo is far more dangerous than it is in the U.S., more along the lines of being a soldier at war than a caretaker of a piece of land. Conflict in the region and struggles over resources means the rangers put their lives on the line to protect Virunga National Park and the animals that call it home. From oil companies trying to invade the park to bushmeat hunters with their sights on the gorilla population to rebel militias burning trees to make valuable charcoal, rangers have to constantly fend off threats to keep the area safe. More than 200 rangers have been killed in attacks going back more than a decade, according to the BBC.

In the face of all of that, Bauma calls his work "love." And that work has paid off. Mountain gorillas have been endangered for decades, but the protection provided by the rangers has enabled the population to swell to more than 1,000—still a startlingly low number, but one that has been steadily increasing.

Vice News created an informative video about the rangers who protect Virunga and the gorillas who call the park home. (There are some potentially disturbing clips of dead gorillas, so viewer discretion is advised.)

The Park Rangers Protecting the Congo's Gorillaswww.youtube.com

It's clear that Bauma's connection to the gorillas he cares for runs deep, and Ndakasi's passing must be a devastating loss for him.

Rest well, Ndakasi. Be well, André Bauma. Thank you for showing us what a beautiful example humans can set in the fight for endangered species.

This newborn baby gorilla has a lot to celebrate today (besides its stylish hair).

Isaro's baby is one of the 22 to be named in the Kwita Izina this year. Photo by Keiko Mori/Kwita Izina.

On Sept. 2, this little guy was one of 22 baby gorillas who was officially named in a Rwandan ceremony called Kwita Izina that will help conserve his endangered population.

The Kwita Izina naming ceremony helps officials monitor and track individuals and families in their habitat as well as raise awareness for conservation efforts. It also promotes awareness about the endangered species and helps conservation efforts to rehabilitate the population.


The mountain gorilla is currently listed as "critically endangered" by the World Wildlife Fund, but thanks to conservation efforts in the region, their numbers have been climbing. Each newborn gorilla is a critical part of the community, and this ceremony helps to solidify that.

Izuru's newborn baby gorilla. Photo by Keiko Mori/Kwita Izina.

2016 marks the 12th ceremony since its inception in 2005. The events and ceremony are staged in Kinigi, near the park where the gorillas live.

Half of the fewer than 900 surviving mountain gorillas live in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in Uganda.

A gorilla picks foliage to eat in a clearing on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park on Nov. 28, 2008. Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

The Virunga Mountains was a diverse and thriving refuge for the gorillas until the 20th century, when deforestation devastated the community.

Later in the century, when human developments moved closer to the gorillas' habitat, they were forced to go higher into the mountains and endure colder temperatures, which the species has not adapted to survive in.

Poaching, illegal charcoal harvesting, disease spread from human contact, and recent civil conflict have also negatively affected the mountain gorillas.

Amahoro's baby, one of the new mountain gorillas to be named in this year's ceremony. Photo by Keiko Mori/Kwita Izina.

The Kwita Izina ceremony has become an integral part of the mountain gorilla conservation efforts in Rwanda.

The naming ceremony is the culminating event of a weeklong fair that includes a gala dinner to raise money for conservation as well as lectures, activities for students, and a craft exhibition.

The ceremony, which is derived from a Rwandan tradition of naming babies soon after they are born, features speeches and performances.

Rwandan children perform in baby gorilla costumes for as part of the seventh annual Kwita Izina ceremony in 2011. Photo by Steve Terrill/AFP Getty Images.

Events like this are crucial to efforts for preventing these gorillas from disappearing. The fundraising involved with the ceremony helps support anti-poaching patrols and reforesting efforts, and one of the main components of the ceremony is the week of events leading up to it that raise money and awareness in the community.

Armed rangers patrolling in the Virunga National park in Rwanda to protect the habitat of Agashya family mountain gorillas. Photo by Aude Genet/AFP/Getty Images.

The number of mountain gorillas in the region grew from 380 in 2003 to 480 in 2010, according to the Rwandan Development Board.

A PLoS One study in 2011 revealed that in about 70% of the population was habituated for research and ecotourism in 2008. The study found that, "nearly 20,000 tourists visited habituated groups in Rwanda in 2008, generating approximately $8 million in revenue for the park service and providing local employment."  

These improvements and increase in awareness have helped in raising the gorilla population. But with the increased exposure of the gorillas to humans through tourism there is the risk that disease can spread and harm the gorilla community.

Gukina's baby gorilla, one of the 22 to be named this year. Photo by Keiko Mori/Kwita Izina.

The mountain gorilla isn't out of the woods yet — though it's bouncing back slowly — and it's all thanks to the conservation efforts in Rwanda and other countries the population is getting this chance to survive and thrive.

The Kwita Izina naming ceremony is a reminder that there is hope on the horizon for these baby gorillas to grow up in a safe and stable community.

Image via Pixabay.

Dealing with grief takes time... lots of time.

Did you know that grief is not just a human emotion? Behaviors of grief have also been observed in other species.

You've probably heard stories like the dog lying beside his owner's casket, but beyond the anecdotes is enough scientific observation to suggest that many animals experience what we could call grief symptoms.

Here are three things we can learn about grieving from the animal kingdom:



1. Getting over a traumatic loss doesn't happen overnight. Animals have been observed staying near the bodies of companions for days.

While you're going through the stages of grief, it's important to remember that your mission isn't to feel better right away or even as soon as you can.

When cameraman Mark Deeble was following an elephant family in Kenya for the documentary series "Africa," he observed a mother mourning the loss of her calf. She stayed next to the body for over an hour.

"In a more benign environment, an elephant might mourn for longer," James Honeyborne, a wildlife filmmaker, wrote in The Daily Mail. "I have heard of animals staying beside the bodies of dead friends for three days and nights, refusing to move."

Geese, which are notably loyal animals, often mourn in seclusion for a long time when their mate dies. Some will even refuse to take another mate ever again.

Grief is a long and slow process. You shouldn't put pressure on yourself to get better in a day, or a week, or even a year. There are no time limits to your feelings. As psychotherapist Martha Clark Scala writes:

"You may start to feel better in three months, but don't be surprised if you're still miserable, at least some of the time, several months to several years after your loss. The average length of time it takes most people to consistently feel better is about a year. However, it's also common to feel better for a while and then take a turn for the worse. That can be triggered by events such as special holidays or occasions that have a particular association with the person you've lost, especially the anniversary of his or her death."

Whether it's anger, guilt, or unbearable sadness, your emotions are what they are. Don't hide from them or try to push them down. Give yourself the time and space you need to really embrace your feelings. It will help you heal.

2. Having the comfort of close friends nearby can help you process your feelings. Multiple primate species have been observed mourning as a group.

In 2008, a volunteer at a chimpanzee rescue shelter named Monica Szcupider took a now-iconic photograph of chimps lining up at the fence of their enclosure to watch as the body of Dorothy, one of their fellow chimps, was wheeled away.

"Her presence, and loss, was palpable, and resonated throughout the group," Szcupider said.

When you lose someone close to you, it's important to remember that you're not alone, even if you feel that way. Leaning on friends and family can be a key part of the healing process.

A snub-nosed monkey fell to her death in front of her partner at an observatory in China. The rest of her group ran over to her, holding her hand and giving her comfort for nearly an hour as she lay dying. The lead male of her group stayed by her side longer than anyone and kept glancing back at her even once he rejoined his group at a nearby river.

Deaths rarely affect just one person. Being with other people who are feeling the same loss can bring you all closer together as you help each other come to terms with the trauma.

3. Death can be hard to accept. Some animals have been observed participating in behaviors suggesting they're in denial.

"The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation," writes Julie Axelrod at Psych Central. "It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock."

A gorilla in Germany was documented holding the body of her deceased baby for a week, trying in vain to restore life to him. Dolphins have also been known to carry dead loved ones on their backs for long periods of time, trying to buoy them and get them to swim again.

These stories are tragic, but denial is often a normal part of the grieving process for both animals and humans.

Denial is not the same as refusal to accept reality, though there are certain warning signs you can pay attention to if your natural denial phase is becoming unhealthy.

But getting from denial to acceptance that a loved one has passed is hard, and the road to recovery takes many forms and has many stages. Denial doesn't mean you're crazy or unable to cope — it's just one way the brain can react.

The biggest takeaway? Regardless of species, grief is a totally natural part of life.

Losing someone you love is incredibly painful, and the grieving process means you might be hurting for a long time. But it's something we go through, humans and animals alike.

You may think you're wrong for feeling as bad as you do, or for crying as much as you want to cry. You're not. The confusing, terrifying, maddening, and isolating process known as mourning is both natural and kind of amazing.

It's amazing because it means you were lucky enough in your life to love someone so much that their loss can hurt this bad. Cherish the happy memories you have. Those aren't going anywhere.

Death and heartbreak are a part of life for both humans and animals. But so are happiness and fulfillment.

And so is healing.


You're probably familiar with Koko, the famous gorilla who knows sign language.

Whether it's her recent comments about climate change or the various times she's adopted kittens to raise as her own, Koko is one impressive ape — and a humbling example of just how humanlike the animal kingdom can be.

(She also has her fair share of vocal detractors, just like her human celebrity counterparts. Because apparently some people aren't impressed by a gorilla who can communicate with humans.)


Not actually Koko, but a family of western lowland gorillas nonetheless. Photo by Pascal Walschots/Flickr.

Does Koko understand the detailed and complex scientific concepts behind climate change? Probably not. Was her response in a recent video on the topic encouraged, edited, and maybe even scripted? Sure.

But who cares? Koko knows more than 1,000 words in American Sign Language! She has pets that she cares for! And, oh yeah, she's completely changed the way we think about what's possible in terms of animal intelligence.

And Koko isn't the only animal to show signs of self-awareness.

Obviously we can't look into a living brain to decide if it has a higher consciousness. But we can observe from the outside whether an organism can roughly acknowledge, "Oh, maybe that other gorilla wanted that banana 'cause he was hungry, and now he's sad, and I kind of understand what that would be like."

This is generally referred to as "Theory of Mind" — the ability to recognize the self and empathize with others. When we recognize this trait in animals like Koko, it means we have some kind of demonstrative evidence these animals see themselves in others' shoes — that they can project and understand the beliefs and desires of others.

Again, just because an animal possesses Theory of Mind doesn't mean their thought processes are as highfalutin as us self-important human-types. But that's OK; there's still a lot that they can teach us — about ourselves and our brains and the world around us.

Here are five more species that act surprisingly human.

1. Chimpanzees

Photo by Matt King/Stringer/Getty Images.

Apes in general are closely related to humans on the evolutionary ladder, but gorillas like Koko aren't the only intelligent ones. Chimpanzees tend to be the go-to subjects for studying primate consciousness and with some pretty remarkable results.

One chimp, Washoe, learned more than 350 words of American Sign Language and even taught some to her son — without any human intervention.

There was also Lucy, who was raised from birth by a human family and became well-known for her proclivity toward gin and tonics and her clever use of household appliances to aid in her — ahem — extracurricular enjoyment of Playgirl magazine. (Which sounds kind of funny until you realize what it says about psychological abuse and captivity.)

2. Octopuses

The octopuses are coming for your World Cup. Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images.

Also known plurally as "octopode" and "octopii," octopuses haven't technically been observed to demonstrate "consciousness" or self-awareness in the ways that we lowly humans usually define them. (This normally involves plopping an animal in front of a mirror to see if it recognizes its own reflection, but that's kinda hard to do with an underwater creature that doesn't see the same way we do.)

But octopuses have been known to learn through observation and use their suckers to unscrew jar lids from the inside and can solve a Rubik's Cube faster than you, so we probably just don't have the tools to comprehend their vastly superior intelligence, and we should really just bow down to our tentacled overlords and pray that they have mercy when they finally rise from the depths to destroy us.

Also they're adorable (scientifically speaking).

3. Elephants

Although they have yet to master the art of ear-powered flight (Disney lied to us!), elephants do have the biggest brains on the planet, which is part of why they have such remarkable memories and even have the ability to distinguish between human genders and ethnicities.

On top of that, elephants have also shown a surprising knack for artistic prowess by painting with their trunks — and brushes aren't the only tools they can use, either. Granted, there has been some moral debate about the treatment of these elephant painters in captivity. But if it makes you feel any better, they've also been known to intentionally screw with humans who are trying to test their intelligence, and I always appreciate an animal that can stick it to the man.

4. Bottlenose dolphins

Fun fact: Dolphins actually have more complex brains than humans.

Perhaps this higher cognitive ability is why so many humans seek their help in dolphin-assisted therapy as well as dolphin-assisted childbirth. Sure, there's no real proof for the effectiveness of either practice — but hey, if that's your thing, go for it.

Like humans, dolphins are one of the only animal species that's known to have sex for pleasure. Well, probably; there's some question about what "sex for pleasure" entails exactly, and I already made the mistake of googling "dolphin sex" once today.

Dolphins, too, have been observed to trick their own human trainers and actually have their own complete translatable language, even if we can't whistle quite they do.

(They also have a legal right to privacy in the state of New Jersey, though I'm not sure if that says more about dolphins or New Jersey.)

5. Crows

Don't be fooled by their diminutive size: The brains of crows (and other birds in the corvid family) are proportional in size to those of primates. This means they're capable of complex reasoning — to the point that some researchers believe them to be as clever as the average 7-year-old human.

This could explain why crows tend to make friends with children in exchange for gifts. Unfortunately, there is no kindergarten system for corvids (that we know of), and thus, no one to teach the clever birds that stealing from other birds and hiding your own stashes of food so that others won't find it (suggesting that they understand the desires of others) is not the best moral practice.

Then again, a plurality of crows is called a "murder," which is insidious enough without them pulling the elaborate cons of human children. Did I mention they know how to create and use their own tools?

Take my advice: Don't mess with a murder.

All of these animals are capable of higher consciousness, just like us.

It's easy to project human feelings onto our pets. After all, most animals do experience basic evolutionary emotions like hunger, fear, and pain, so it's not that big of a step to imagine them understanding individual desires and complex issues.

But the animals above go much, much farther than that. And while it might seem cute and cuddly to think of other critters acting like we do, we can also learn a lot about ourselves by studying the animals who are close to catching up. 

Except for octopuses, I mean. When it comes to them, all that we can really do is wait until they conquer Earth and hope we live to tell the tale.  ¯\\_(ツ)_/¯