By Jacob King
This gorilla has certainly found a KEEPER as she shares a touching hug with a park ranger working to protect her.
Intimate photos show young gorilla Ndazi giving one of her keepers Andre a big hug before jumping on him for a piggyback.
Smiling Andre seems more than happy to help her on her way through the jungle.
The touching scene was captured on camera by Shannon Witz, from Chicago, USA, when she was visiting the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The picture is even more poignant as 180 park rangers have died over the last 20 years trying to protect the park’s animals.
Following a spate of 12 deaths at the hands of poachers and smugglers in the past 10 months, as well of the abduction of two British tourists who were safely returned, the park has been closed to tourists while security is upgraded.
Shannon, who works on oncology trials for a pharmaceutical company, said: “I was very happy with the photos, especially the one where Ndazi is leaning into Andre.
“Her eyes are closed and there is this sense of calmness and serenity in that moment.
“It’s this picture that I think really shows the genuine affection and trust they have for one another. It was a beautiful moment and I was fortunate to have witnessed it.”
The 3,000 sq mi Virunga is the oldest national park on the African continent, having been established in 1925.
Shannon’s first visit to the area was in December 2014 and she has continued to return ever since.
She says it is tragic how many of the park’s hard working rangers have been killed trying to save the animals that have made their homes in Virunga.
Shannon said: “Growing up I recall being passionate about two things – wildlife and travel – specifically travel to Africa.
“I suspect early on that my fascination with the continent was a side effect of my love for animals.
“As for Virunga specifically, it was the imagery of Nick Nichols that introduced me to the country and finally Brent Stirton’s heart-breaking images of the gorilla massacres that ultimately convinced me to make the journey.
“My first trip was in December 2014 and was followed by another a couple of months later and few more after that.
“The main issue the park faces is security. Over the years 180 park rangers have been killed in their pursuit to protect the park.
“The cause of the security issues can largely be attributed to three issues – extreme poverty, regional instability and control of the park’s natural resources.
“Now the security situation has forced the park to close its doors to tourists which it desperately needs to survive.”