4 Poachers Arrested After Killing Rare Mountain Gorilla, Rafiki, in Uganda

Four alleged poachers have been arrested in Uganda for the tragic death of a rare Silverback mountain gorilla, known as Rafiki. They claim it was self-defence.

Rafiki belonged to the famous Nkuringo Gorilla group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. At the time of his death the group had 17 members – one Silverback, three Blackbacks, eight adult females, two juveniles and three infants. Rafiki’s death has left the group compromised, unstable and without leadership.

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said in a statement yesterday that it has arrested the four men and that they will be prosecuted in the courts of law.

The gorilla – who was around 25-years-old – had been reported missing on 1 June. The following day the UWA launched a search and were devastated to discover Rafiki’s body. The death of the Silverback – who was popular with tourists – has been mourned by animal conservationists around the world.

UWA launched an investigation into the Silverback’s death after the post-mortem report revealed that the rare mountain gorilla had “sustained an injury by a sharp device / object that penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up to the internal organs.”

The four suspects had apparently gone into the park to hunt smaller animals.

The first suspect was followed and arrested at his home on 4 June, in a nearby village, where he was found in possession of bush pig meat and several hunting devices… including a spear, rope snares, wires snares and a dog hunting bell.

rafiki gorilla killed
Rafiki – the popular Silverback mountain gorilla, killed by poachers/hunters in Uganda. Photo: UWA

The man – Byamukama Felix – confessed to killing the gorilla in self-defence. He said he and one of the other suspects had come into contact with the group of gorillas.

“When the silver back charged at them, he speared it,” UWA said in the statement.

The suspect also revealed that he shared some of the bush pig meat with the two other suspects, who he says are fellow poachers. The four men were arrested on 7 June. According to one UK report, the men could face a life sentence or a fine of $5.4-million if they are found guilty of killing an endangered species.

According to WWF the mountain gorilla is endangered with a population of just over 1,000.

WWF says: “The world’s smallest population of mountain gorillas—a subspecies of the eastern gorilla—is split in two… A bit more than half live in the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The remainder can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.”

UWA is currently monitoring the gorillas to make sure they’re ready for tourists when the park re-opens.

UWA Communications Manager Bashir Hangi told the BBC: “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.”

He said if that were to occur the group would not want contact with humans… which would affect tourism.