Killer of silverback gorilla sentenced

Posted by Kirsten on 30 July 2020

The killer of Rafiki, one of Uganda’s rare and endangered silverback gorillas, has been handed an 11 years jail sentence.

In June 2020, Rafiki was killed by poachers. The primate was part of the famous Nkuringo gorilla group living in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

A man named Felix Byamukama was responsible for killing Rafiki and other wildlife in the national park, reports the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

Killer of rare, endangered silverback gorilla Rafiki gets 11 years

Rafiki was the leader of 17 gorillas. Credit: Twitter / Uganda Wildlife

‘Byamukama pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal entry into a protected area, killing a gorilla and a duiker. The Chief Magistrate His Worship Julius Borere sentenced him to 5, 6 and 5 years respectively to be served concurrently,’ wrote the UWA in a statement.

In a second case file, Byamukama also pleaded guilty to killing a bush pig as well as being in possession of bush pig and duiker meat, for which he was sentenced to 5 years on each count to run concurrently after his six years from the first case file.

‘We are relieved that Rafiki has received justice and this should serve as an example to other people who kill wildlife. If one person kills wildlife, we all lose, therefore we request every person to support our efforts of conserving wildlife for the present and future generations,’ said UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha.

He adds that the new 2019 Wildlife Act is tough, and anyone involved in illegal activity will face the wrath of the law.

Rafiki was declared missing on June 1, according to the UWA. A search party discovered him a day later with a spear wound that had pierced his internal organs and killed him.

Rafiki was 25 years old and the leader of 17 other gorillas.

Four men were arrested for the murder on June 4, including Byamukama who initially claimed the attack was in self-defence. The other three men denied the charges and were remanded to Kisoro prisons.

Many were concerned that Rafiki’s death would leave the group unstable, and that a wild gorilla would take over and cause the group to disintegrate. This would have greatly impacted on tourism in the country, as these gorilla’s are a major attraction for travellers. Luckily, a black-back from within the family now leads the group and they are stable, said the UWA.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species and there are currently just over 1,000 left in existence, according to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

‘The biggest threats to this endangered great ape’s survival come from political instability, human encroachment, and forest degradation,’ write the AWF. ‘Increasing human populations and continued encroachment pose serious threats to this great ape’s habitat.’

Human encroachment on wildlife habitats is one of the biggest challenges to UWA and conservation in general.

In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature shifted the status of mountain gorillas from critically endangered to endangered thanks to conversation efforts, but these primates still remain targets.

The BBC reports that poaching has escalated in various parks in the country in recent months. Many parks have closed due to the coronavius pandemic, and over 300 poaching incidents have been reported during their lockdown.

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