The killer of Rafiki, a rare wild silverback mountain gorilla, and the leader of 17 mountain gorillas, has been jailed for 11 years. Rafiki, thought to be 25-years-old at the time, went missing on June 1 and his body was discovered one day later by a search party. The killer was found in a nearby village with hunting equipment.
Felix Byamukama, the poacher, pleaded guilty as he had illegally gone to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with three others with the intention of killing smaller animals, and had killed the gorilla out of self-defense when it attacked him. He was also found guilty of possessing meat of bush pig, and duiker, a small African antelope which he had killed at the protected area.
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Investigations confirmed that Rafiki was killed by a sharp object that penetrated his internal organs. The other three hunters are awaiting trial in jail as they had denied the charges.
A UWA spokesperson told BBC that Byamukama had received a shorter and less severe punishment as he was not trialed in a special wildlife court sentence, which would’ve otherwise been his life. Instead, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail with several other sentences which he will serve simultaneously, by Chief Magistrate Julius Borere. However, the gorilla received justice and the sentence is exemplary for the would-be offenders. The executive director of UWA added “If one person kills wildlife, we all lose,” asking all Ugandans to support the efforts to converse wildlife within the country.
The group of gorillas led by this silverback is used to human contacts, meaning they are habituated and was a booster of tourism. Rafiki individually was a favorite of the visitors of the park. Contrary to the worries that a wild silverback that’s not conversant with human contact would take over the group, and become a puff down of tourism, UWA confirmed the group is now led by a blackback from within the family, and that the group is quite stable.
Although mountain gorillas were removed from the list of critically endangered species in 2018 by IUCN, thanks to thorough protection endeavors and anti-poaching patrols, they are still endangered with only 1000 individuals identified as of 2018. This subspecies of the eastern gorilla is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.