Silverback gorilla Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

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It is very sad news for the tourism community especially the lovers of gorilla safaris after Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) reported that silverback Rafiki, the leader of the famous Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was killed by poachers.

According to UWA, Rafiki was reported missing on 1 June before the team from the authority found his body the following day in Hakato area inside the park.

A press release from UWA indicates that investigations carried out by the Police reveal that Rafiki was stabbed by a sharp object penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up the internal organs.

Given that evidence, the police launched an operation in order to find those who may be responsible for Rafiki’s death. Subsequently, four poachers were arrested including Felix Byamukama, Valence Museveni, Yonas Mubangisi, and Bampabenda Everest.

The police arrested Byamukama, one of the poachers from his residence in Kisoro district after finding him in possession of bush pig meat and several hunting devices including a spear, rope snares and a dog hunting bell.

Byamukama confessed that he killed the gorilla in self-defense. He says they had gone hunting with Bampabenda where they came into contact with the gorilla group. When the silverback charged at them, he speared it, according to the press release from UWA.

According to UWA, the possible charges the suspects could face include being in possession of wildlife specimens, illegal entry into a protected area and killing an endangered species. If found guilty, the suspects could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or paying a fine of $5.4m according to the new Wildlife Act.

Effect of Covid-19 lockdown

It had been about 9 years since the last time a gorilla was killed by a spear according to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. The recent increase in poaching in gorilla parks has been attributed to the fall in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced the closure of all national parks. Gorilla safaris were a source of income to some of the residence living around gorilla parks through providing several services like porters, local guides, entertainment and selling local items to tourists. The limited checkups on gorillas by rangers due to fear of spreading the virus to the apes has also left the animals exposed to poachers.

Who was silverback Rafiki?

Rafiki was the leading silverback of the famous Nkuringo gorilla family which has been popular so popular with tourists for decades. The group was also the first to be habituated in Uganda in 1997. He was leading a family of 17 members including 1 silverback, 3 blackbacks, 8 females, 2 juveniles and 3 infants.

About Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a montane forest park sprawling over 80,000 acres in southwest Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. The park is a home to a stunning array of wildlife including mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons, elephants, and antelopes. It was created in 1991 and three years later in 1994, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since its establishment, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has become a critical refugee for the endangered mountain gorillas, which were on the brink of extinction a few decades ago.

According to the most recent gorilla census in 2018, there are about 1,063 mountain gorillas remained in the wild and about 459 of them live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The remaining population of mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountain range of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.

Other threats to mountain gorillas

Although direct poaching targeting mountain gorillas is rare, poaching in general in gorilla habitats exposes these great apes to threats like snares used to trap antelopes, attacks from hunting dogs, and injuries from spears. Mountain gorillas are also threatened habitat loss due to human encroachment and forest degradation as well as political instability in civil conflict areas like eastern DR Congo. Human diseases like flu, pneumonia, and Ebola are also a great threat to the lives of mountain gorillas.