A poacher has just been found guilty of killing Rafiki, a notorious Ugandan silverback gorilla. He will be imprisoned for the next 11 years.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei). Found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it is critically endangered and normally protected. One of its most famous representatives, Rafiki, a 25-year-old silverback male, was sadly shot dead last June.
Rafiki’s death came as the frequency of poaching cases increased in Uganda since strict containment was put in place to fight the novel coronavirus. “We have observed an increase in poaching cases in our national parks after the closure of our tourist centers due to Covid-19”, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) pointed out a few weeks ago.
According to a report by the same NGO, the alert was issued on June 1st. On that day, the gorilla Rakifi, usually leading a group of 17 individuals, went missing. The next day, the authorities finally found his remains. According to the autopsy report, he was shot dead by a sharp object that hit his internal organs.
11 years in prison
On June 12, authorities apprehended four men, one of whom confirmed to have fatally injured Rafiki. The individual, named Felix Byamukama, a resident of a nearby village, has just pleaded guilty while claiming self-defense. He said a group of gorillas charged them as they were illegally hunting feral pigs in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The individual was also found guilty of entering the national park illegally, and of killing a duiker (a small antelope) and a bush pig. He finally received 11 years in prison. He was not tried by a special wildlife court. If that had been the case, he could have been sentenced to life.
An exemplary sanction
The verdict, said Uganda Wildlife Authority director Sam Mwandha, should still “serve as an example for anyone who kills wildlife.” If someone kills wild animals, we all lose,” he also said, relieved that justice had been served for Rafiki.
As for the other three alleged accomplices, all have denied their involvement in the gorilla’s death. They are, however, held in prison awaiting future trial. Rafiki’s group is now led by a black-backed male from the same family, according to UWA.