Eleven years in prison for the hunter who killed a popular gorilla in Africa

by John Anderson 9 days ago in guilty

Ugandan authorities condemned the poacher who killed Rafiki, a silver-backed male who was one of the country's most symbolic forest species.

Eleven years in prison for the hunter who killed a popular gorilla in Africa
Gorilla Rafiki was 25 years old when he was killed. / UGANDA WILDLIFE AUTHORITY

Ugandan authorities condemned the poacher who killed Rafiki, a silver-backed male who was one of the country's most symbolic forest species.

Ugandan court sentenced the poacher to eleven years in prison who killed Rafiki, one of the most popular mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Africa, in early June.

The executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Sam Mwandha, called this sentence "a message for all poachers".

“When a person kills an animal, we all lose; that is why we ask each citizen to help us preserve wildlife for future generations, "Mwandha said in a statement.

Felix Byamukama, a Ugandan citizen, was convicted of killing the gorilla, illegally entering the aforementioned national park, and hunting other animals to trade in its meat, the Kabale trial court (southwest).

When the authorities arrested Byamukama on July 4, the hunter had possession of spinker meat (a kind of wild pig) and hunting instruments.

Byamukama confessed to killing Rafiki in self-defense, after being caught and attacked by the primate while walking through the woods with three companions.

Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili, was the silverbacked male (dominant) of the Nkuringo family, made up of 17 members, as well as being a highly acclaimed figure among Ugandans and park visitors.

After losing their livelihoods due to the confinement Uganda imposed in late March to combat COVID-19, some Ugandans are resorting to poaching for food or additional income, according to the country's environmental authorities.

In Queen Elizabeth National Park alone (southwest), authorities arrested more than 60 poachers between March and May.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species, even though their populations are slowly growing. According to the latest census, published in late 2019 by the region's governments and some nature conservation organizations, there are around 1,063 specimens of mountain gorillas in the mountain ranges that mark the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Poachers kill Rafiki, one of Africa's most famous silverback

A group poacher has claimed the lives of Rafiki, one of the gorilla back silver most famous in the world. This 25-year-old male had lived in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park ( Uganda ) since 2008 and led a group of 17 gorillas. Its spectacular bearing and size always made it one of the favorites for tourists, who were busy taking pictures of this impressive animal. The park authorities lost sight of him on June 1 and it was not until a day later that they discovered his body, which ended up leading them to those responsible.

After an intense search, a game of rangers found his corpse mutilated on June 2, so they decided to access the park's cameras to see if they found anything strange. After intensive research, responsible for safeguarding the integrity of the park followed a track that he brought them to a nearby village, where they found suspect meat from hunting, trapping, a spear, and a bell to those used in necklaces hunting dogs. After asking him, he confirmed that he was one of the four responsible for what happened ... although in self-defense.

As this man explained, the group of four people was inside the park practicing the small game, when they were suddenly surprised by Rafiki's group. He assures that the silverback was thrown over him without mediation and that he had no choice but to defend himself with the spear, digging it into the belly and, ultimately, causing injuries that would eventually lead to his death. According to his account, the gorilla attacked first and they could only defend themselves. The doubts that the story real arose because it was an animal used to living with humans and, above all, because of how it appeared mutilated, as a trophy.

Furthermore, the incident took place only a few days after conservationists in the area warned of the danger of poaching. The coronavirus pandemic and the consequent confinement has caused the tourism that was in charge of going traditionally to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, in Uganda, to have disappeared, which is a major problem for the country. And not only because it is one of the main sources of income in the country, but the lack of tourists allows illegal hunters to occupy areas that would otherwise be impossible for them due to the presence of other people.

Since the confinement began, those responsible for several parks in Uganda have reported to the authorities the exponential increase in poaching, especially of the most striking and spectacular animals that are protected. The problem with this group of 17 silverbacks is now that Rafiki was the only mature male gorilla in the group, which can lead to the herd starting to have trouble finding food and the group ends up splintering, with the cost it represents for an endangered species.

"Silverback gorillas like Rafiki play a huge role in group stability and cohesion, so this loss will have major repercussions for the group. Their death is tragic," explains Cathy Lawson, a primatologist and regional manager for WWF-UK in East Africa, to 'National Geographic'. In the best case, another silverback will take over the group, but not being used to living with people, the group will move away from their presence, with the significant blow that this will mean for Uganda's tourism.

Uganda's civil war and rampant poaching left only 350 members of one of the most impressive gorilla species ever to walk the Earth in the 1980s. The great work of conservationists has allowed this population to have more than 1,000 individuals today, but what happened with Rafiki has caused one of the best-known silverbacks in the world to disappear forever. The four alleged perpetrators will be tried by the authorities: if their murder is confirmed, they will face 10-year prison terms and fines of more than 5 million euros.

John Anderson
John Anderson
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
John Anderson

Writer, Editor, Teacher, tinkerer, always looking to make something from nothing

See all posts by John Anderson