One of Uganda’s best known silverback gorillas has been killed by hunters.
The 25-year-old gorilla named Rafiki died in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park earlier this month. Rafiki had reportedly gone missing on June 1; his body was found by a search party the following day.
It’s thought that Rafiki died after a spear was thrown at him, which penetrated his internal organs. Following Rafiki’s death, four men have been arrested and face life in prison or a fine of $5.4 million (£4.3 million) if they are found guilty of killing an endangered species.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has described the loss of Rafiki as a ‘very big blow’.
Bashir Hangi from the UWA said:
The death of Rafiki leaves the group unstable and there is the possibility that it could disintegrate. It has no leadership at this time and it could be taken over by a wild silverback.
Prior to his death, Rafiki was the leader of the famed Nkuringo gorilla group consisting of 17 gorillas.
One of the hunters, identified as Byamukama Felix, claimed he killed the gorilla in ‘self defence’ after Rafiki charged at him. The day after Rafiki’s body was discovered, authorities found several hunting tools, including a spear, in Felix’s home. Felix said he had gone hunting for smaller animals in the park when he and three others stumbled upon the Nkuringo group.
The group of gorillas is described as ‘habituated’, meaning they are used to human contact.
Last year, the Ugandan government passed a strict law imposing tough penalties on those who kill endangered species. The four men arrested for Rafiki’s death are expected to be charged under this new law.
Laws like these are massively helping the conversation of gorillas; in 2018, mountain gorillas were changed from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’ by the IUCN after their numbers increased.
In 2008 it was reported there were only 600 of the gorillas left in the wild, this has since risen to over 1,000.
Despite their numbers increasing, Dr Liz Williamson of the IUCN primate specialist group said it’s vital for conservation work to continue.
Dr Williamson told BBC News:
Coordinated efforts through a regional action plan and fully implementing IUCN Best Practice guidelines for great ape tourism and disease prevention, which recommend limiting numbers of tourists and preventing any close contact with humans, are critical to ensuring a future for the mountain gorilla.
While it’s encouraging to know mountain gorillas are rising in population, Rafiki’s death will still have a huge impact on the gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and its conservationists.
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