Really upsetting news this morning learning that Rafiki, a 25 year old silverback mountain gorilla in Uganda has been killed by poachers.
Rafiki was the only mature male in a group of 17 gorillas so the future will be uncertain for a subspecies that in recent years has been brought back from the brink of extinction.
Authorities in Uganda have arrested four suspected poachers in western Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The last time a mountain gorilla died at the hands of humans was in 2011.
Rafiki went missing on the 1st June and rangers found his mutilated body the following day. They tracked a suspect to a nearby village, where they found bushmeat as well as snares, a spear, and bells to be strapped to the collars of hunting dogs. The poacher admitted that he and three others had been hunting antelope in the park and that he killed Rafiki in self-defense after the animal attacked.
Under Uganda’s laws, the four men face life imprisonment or a fine of $5.4 million if found guilty of killing an endangered species.
There have been many warnings of late from conservationists and government officials that the coronavirus pandemic and various lockdowns could force people to poaching out of desperation. A nationwide curfew has closed national parks and suspended ecotourism expeditions to see the gorillas in their natural habitat, and with this the main source of revenue for gorilla conservation was gone.
Following decades of civil war and poaching, mountain gorillas have undergone an incredible revival in recent years. The population dropped to around 350 animals in the 1980s but now number more than a thousand individuals. These are split between two main populations in Bwindi and a network of parks in the Virunga range of extinct volcanoes. In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded their status from critically endangered to endangered
It is possible that another silverback mountain gorilla not used to people as Rafiki was, could take over the group, driving the animals away from tourists and therefore disrupting the region’s economy.
When silverbacks have died in the past, the remaining members often divide into other groups where infants can be killed by other silverbacks.
Despite the challenges, conservationists are determined not to lose the gains made by decades of work to protect this incredible species.
Such sad news which will ultimately only impact negatively on the community who could potentially see a loss in tourist income.