‘Gorilla selfie’: Congolese ranger explains how he snapped the viral photo

‘Gorilla selfie’: Congolese ranger explains how he snapped the viral photo

Mathieu Shamavu’s photo captured two female orphaned gorillas at a national park in the Congo copying his movements

Two gorillas stand behind a park ranger, one at a side angle, with her shoulders back, head up, apparently posing. The other seems to be peering around the back of the human to make sure she’s in the shot.

The photograph – or gorilla selfie, as it has been dubbed – went viral after it was shared by Mathieu Shamavu, a ranger at Virunga national park in eastern Congo, who captured the shot.

Shamavu said he was checking his phone when he noticed two female orphaned gorillas, Ndakazi and Ndeze, mimicking his movements behind them, so he took a picture with them.

The photograph of the gorillas quickly clocked up thousands of likes and comments on social media after Shamavu posted the picture.

According to rangers at the sanctuary, Ndakazi and Ndeze were the first orphaned gorillas to be cared for at the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Orphanage Center, which is the only place in the world dedicated to the care of orphaned mountain gorillas. Nkakazi and Ndeze were orphaned 12 years ago when their families were killed by poachers.

Because the gorillas have such close contact with rangers and caretakers from a young age, they learn to imitate humans.

“In terms of behaviour, they like to mimic everything that is happening, everything we do,” Shamavu said.

He said the caretakers at the orphanage try to give the animals as much access as possible to their natural environment, but they inevitably exhibit “almost the same behaviour as humans.”

The orphans need constant care, so the rangers live nearby and spend their days feeding them, playing with them, keeping them company.

“Gorilla caretakers with those gorilla orphans, we are the same family,” said head caretaker Andre Bauma. “They know we are their mum. They are a member of the family. We are their friends.”

Virunga is billed as Africa’s most biodiverse national park, spanning tropical forests, snow-peaked mountains and active volcanoes and is also one of the last homes of wild mountain gorillas. The last remaining populations of the animals in the wild are found in the mountains of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

Virunga’s management has had to take extraordinary measures to keep its visitors safe from the on-and-off fighting in the region – protecting them with a highly trained guard of elite rangers and sniffer dogs, and working closely with communities surrounding the park.

After a park ranger was killed by gunmen and three foreign tourists were briefly held captive, the park closed until it could secure the safety of visitors. It reopened in mid-February this year.

Virunga’s management hopes the viral gorilla selfie will help boost the park’s profile, and encourage more people to give money to the park, which relies on private visitor donations.

Source: The Guardian