Warden Patrick Sadiki Karabaranga has been taking care of orphaned mountain gorillas for over a decade at a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He cares for the gorillas as though they are his own children, he says.
Having developed such a close bond, Karabaranga has shared many intimate interactions with the apes, and they have shown to be quite inquisitive creatures when it comes to the behavior of their guardians—and in particular the devices they use. The warden often holds up his device for a selfie with his extended gorilla family, and they respond with great interest.
"I think it's the curiosity to see themselves on the phone that entices them to take selfies with me," the warden explained, as reported by Daily Mail. "I do a lot of my work with orphan gorillas, they are like my human children."
The curious nature of these mountain gorillas is apparent from the photos of them together with their human counterpart at Virunga National Park, which they call home.
The gorillas arrive at the sanctuary at a young age, and many of their parents were killed by poachers. As a result, they mostly learn from their caregivers, according to park ranger Mathieu Shamavu from the sanctuary. "In terms of behavior," he told the Associated Press, "they like to mimic everything that is happening, everything we do."
The park staff try to give the apes as much access to their natural environment as possible, yet they inevitably exhibit “almost the same behavior as humans,” the ranger adds.
"From a job point of view, the work really gives us love," Shamavu emphasized. "When we live with these gorillas, when we see them each time ... when they see us, they are very happy."
However, the park noted that selfies with wild animals should ordinarily be avoided at all costs, advising, "It is never permitted to approach a gorilla in the wild."
"We want to emphasize that these gorillas are in an enclosed sanctuary for orphans which they have lived [in] since infancy,” the park shared in a Facebook post. "The caretakers at Senkwekwe take great care to not put the health of the gorillas in danger."
The work carried out by the team at Virunga National Park is especially important in light of their ongoing battle with armed poachers. The park's website states that their territory represents one of the most biodiverse on the planet and includes endangered mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, savanna elephants, and lions.
The park has periodically had to deal with armed rebel groups as well as poachers. In May 2018, two British tourists were kidnapped and held for two days by rebel gunmen before being released, Euro News reported. A Congolese female ranger was killed trying to protect them.
From June 2018 to February 2019, the park was closed until conditions stabilized enough to ensure visitors’ safety. Since that time, the park has trained and armed Elite Anti-Poaching Units who protect the animals, guides, and tourists.
As the struggle continues into 2020, Karabaranga's amazing selfies remind us that these beautiful, intelligent, and vulnerable mountain gorillas need our protection from our fellow humans who would do them harm.