Orphaned gorillas wow onlookers as they embrace their keeper with loving hugs
The orphaned mountain gorillas could not hide their affection for keeper Andre Bauma.
Females Ndakasi and Ndeze, and male Matabishi enveloped him in cuddles and even playfully climbed up for a piggy-back.
They were raised at the Senkwekwe Centre in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo after rebel forces killed their parents.
And photographer James Gifford, 41, was astounded by the magical relationship between the keeper and his charges.
“This was the first time I can remember when I’ve found myself so amazed and touched by what I was seeing, that I found myself lowering my camera so I could properly concentrate on the interaction between Andre and the mountain gorillas,” said James, from Botswana, South Africa.
“The two female gorillas were orphaned after rebel forces killed nine critically endangered mountain gorillas in 2007, and the young babies were subsequently brought up by Andre.
“Andre spent time grooming and communicating with the gorillas and their relationship was very tactile.
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“Later, the gorillas signalled it was time for them to return to their sleeping area by jumping on Andre ‘s back for a piggy-back.
“Laughing, he managed to persuade them to dismount and then while walking upright, one grasped his hand and led him away.”
James, originally from the UK, added: “The relationship between the gorillas and Andre is truly remarkable – watching them interact, you realise immediately how much the gorillas love and respect Andre .
“Not only do they have a very close bond, forged over ten years in the case of the females, but Andre effectively acts as the alpha male of the group, monitoring behaviour and admonishing when necessary – a role which cannot be easy given the superior strength of his charges.”