Orphaned gorillas strike a pose in selfie with park ranger

By Christopher Brito

/ CBS News

A selfie of a park ranger and two standing gorillas in Africa has gone viral. The photo shows two park rangers with a pair of orphaned mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ranger Mathieu Shamavu, who is part of an anti-poaching unit, took the picture with the endangered apes, who appeared to be posing and casually standing upright. The park posted the image on its Facebook page with the caption "Another day in the office" on Thursday, and it immediately drew massive attention — mostly because users couldn't believe it. The park, however, addressed those concerns on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

You might have recently seen caretakers Mathieu and Patrick’s amazing selfie with female orphaned gorillas Ndakazi and Ndeze inside the Senkwekwe center at Virunga National Park. We’ve received dozens of messages about the photo. YES, it’s real! Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities! Also, it’s no surprise to see these girls on their two feet either—most primates are comfortable walking upright (bipedalism) for short bursts of time. Guys, if you shared our gorilla selfie post, please share our Earth Day posts as well! Conserving Virunga’s amazing wildlife is a constant challenge for the Park and our work wouldn’t be possible without your support. Matching funds have been pledged on every donation to the Park today, up to a total of $25,000—giving us the opportunity to raise $50,000 for Virunga! Visit virunga.org/donate or click the link in our bio to get involved and keep sharing our posts! Thank you! *We want to emphasize that these gorillas are in an enclosed sanctuary for orphans to which they have lived since infancy. The caretakers at Senkwekwe take great care to not put the health of the gorillas in danger. These are exceptional circumstances in which the photo was taken. It is never permitted to approach a gorilla in the wild. #gorillaselfie #gorilla #mountaingorilla #mountaingorillaselfie #selfie #earthday #earthday2019 #virunga #virunganationalpark #congo #drcongo #rdc #drc #protecttheplanet #happyearthday #wildlife #wildlifeconservation #conservation #natureconservation

A post shared by Virunga National Park (@virunganationalpark) on

"YES, it's real! Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities! Also, it's no surprise to see these girls on their two feet either—most primates are comfortable walking upright (bipedalism) for short bursts of time."

In an interview with BBC News, the park's deputy director, Innocent Mburanumwe, said the gorillas had learned to imitate their caretakers, who have looked after them since they were less than 4 months old. According to Mburanumwe, they see the park rangers as their parents because the gorillas' mothers were both killed in 2007.

"I was very surprised to see it… so it's very funny. It's very curious to see how a gorilla can imitate a human and stand up," he said.

The park noted the viral photo was taken under "exceptional circumstances," adding, "It is never permitted to approach a gorilla in the wild."

According to the park's website, around one-third of the world's endangered mountain gorillas reside in Virunga National Park, which stretches across the eastern part of the country.

First published on April 22, 2019 / 4:27 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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