In one of the oldest National Parks in Africa, Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ranger Andre Bauma is taking his responsibilities a step further by caring for orphaned mountain gorillas as if they were his own. One gorilla named Ndakasi is particularly close to the ranger and believes him to be her mother – a role that he, despite his male human form, has adopted with love.
Bauma first encountered two-months old Ndakasi after the tragic murder of her gorilla mother, who was shot at close range through the back of her head. The little gorilla was clinging to the corpse of her mum and would most certainly has died had Bauma not stepped in: “she was tiny, she only weighed a couple of kilos,” Bauma recalls. From that moment, the ranger decided to dedicate his life to helping her and so many other gorillas like her.
Ndakasi was born into a group of mountain gorillas that are known as the Rugendo family. In 2007, during the same attack that slaughtered her mother, three other members of the same family were killed. Bauma believes that: “every single individual gorilla is crucial because it’s an endangered species.”
When it comes to uncovering the motive behind these senseless killings, it’s believed that the nation’s illegal charcoal trade may have played a role. Despite this illegal activity, the law is clear on its statement that no human activity of any kind is allowed inside the National Park. And as the only line of defence for the gorillas and others species that live there, the rangers have been shouldered with the dangerous job of preventing this human activity and any other damage it may do. Sadly, 130 rangers have been killed in this line of duty since 1996 and Bauma states that “we are constantly threatened, not only by the militias outside the park but also in general by the population.”
One reason Bauma states for the desperate condition in which they find themselves is the DRC’s rising levels of poverty. “People will try to survive,” he says,”[so] they will try to use the natural resources of the park, whether it be wood to make charcoal, fields for agriculture or illegal fishing.”
As the head of the gorilla orphanage, Bauma now takes care of four gorilla orphans. The rangers use a combination of voice commands and hand gestures to communicate with the gorillas and Baumu states that he finds them “very intelligent” and able to “understand anything.” Having spent so much time with them, he can tell by the gorillas’ tones of voice “if they’re scared of something, if they’re worried, if there’s something wrong with the food, if they feel they’re in danger…”.
With such an important job to do, it’s comforting to see how seriously ranger Andre Bauma takes his role of ‘mother’ to the orphan gorillas. We can only hope that further steps are taken to not only help people like Bauma who do so much good, but also protect the mountain gorillas from the tragedy that human hands can leave.