Silverback Rafiki Killed by Poachers in Bwindi
Silverback Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has left many gorilla conservation bodies devastated. On 1st June 2020, Rafiki was reported missing and a search party was sent out on June 2nd by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The search resulted into the lifeless body of silverback Rafiki being found in Hakato area inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Upon thoroughly checking and a post-mortem performed on the gorilla, it was found that he was pierced by a sharp object or device that penetrated its left abdomen up to the internal organs that consequently led to its death.
Silverback Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi was the dominant silverback of the Nkuringo gorilla family found in the Nkuringo gorilla region in the southern part of the much visited and beautiful Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts over 40 gorilla families. Nkuringo gorilla family is one of the 19 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that tourists from world over can visit for a gorilla trekking in Bwindi experience. Nkuringo gorilla family was the very first gorilla family to be habituated in Nkuringo gorilla region in 1997 and was availed for gorilla trekking thereafter.
By the time silverback Rafiki killed by poachers died, Nkuringo gorilla family had 17 members with 1 silverback Rafiki as the dominant male, 3 Blackbacks, 8 Adult females, 2 Juveniles and 3 infants. Silverback Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi was approximated at 25 years of age. Rafiki was very popular amongst tourists who visited Nkuringo gorilla family and he will be dearly missed.
The death of silverback Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi leaves a power vacuum in the Nkuringo gorilla family that has no other silverback. The death of Rafiki leaves the group unstable with a possibility of disintegration or even a takeover by a wild silverback gorilla.
Uganda Wildlife Authority Arrests four men for killing silverback Rafiki
Following the death of beloved Rafiki, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) mounted a search to find the possible killers of Rafiki. On June 4th, a one Byamukama Felix, a resident of Murole village in the district of Kisoro was found with bush pig meat in his house along with a number of hunting equipment that included spears, rope snares, wires snares and a dog hunting bell. Byamukama confessed to killing silverback Rafiki but in self-defence. According to him, he had gone hunting in the park [which is illegal] with a one Bampabenda Evarist. When they encountered the Nkuringo gorilla family, Rafiki charged at them and it was then that he pierced him with a spear, in self-defence. He revealed further that he shared the bush pig meat with Museveni Valence and Mubangizi Yonasi who are also poachers. On 7th June 2020, the four poachers were arrested and are currently in Kisoro police station awaiting trial in court. Poaching in protected areas is illegal and given that they killed an endangered species, they are looking at serving a life sentence in prison or pay a $5.4million fine.
Mountain gorillas are an endangered ape species that can only be found in the protected areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda that harbours about 459 individuals with the rest being shared amongst the three national parks in the Virunga Conservation Area say Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The killing of silverback Rafiki is a great blow to the conservation of mountain gorillas that are already an endangered species. Mountain gorillas were once listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature but with the great conservation efforts of various gorilla conservation agencies and government bodies, their efforts did pay off like anti-poaching patrols that a rise in the world mountain gorilla population rose to about 1063 individuals from just 1000. Having poaching happening in the protected areas rises concern to if the locals did really learn that gorilla tourism and tourism, in general, is beneficial to them after so much sensitization. Other threats to the existence of mountain gorillas apart from poaching include habitat loss due to encroachment, diseases, among others.
According to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the last time a gorilla was killed by a spear was in June 2011, almost a decade ago. Having silverback Rafiki killed by poachers in Bwindi is probably also attributed to the fact that there has been little or no active activity in the park say gorilla trekking that kept the gorillas being checked on regularly by both tourists and rangers that kept poachers and hunters away from the park. With the current Covid-19 situation that has the primate parks in Uganda closed to tourists has given locals a leeway to go into the park for hunting an activity which wouldn’t have been if Covid-19 which is also susceptible to primates never ravaged the world that tourism is almost at a standstill.