Four men face life in prison for killing Uganda’s most beloved gorilla, Rafiki. The 25-year-old endangered silverback was one of only 1,004 mountain gorillas left in the wild and headed up a human-habituated family of 17 in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
He went missing on June 1 and his body was found a day later. A post mortem found Rafiki sustained an injury by a sharp device/object that penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up to the internal organs, according to a statement by The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
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“The death of Rafiki leaves the group unstable and there is the possibility that it could disintegrate,” Bashir Hangi from the UWA told the BBC.
“It has no leadership at this time and it could be taken over by a wild silverback.”
If that happened, the group would no longer have contact with humans meaning a major loss in revenue for Uganda.
The Bwindi Park makes millions from tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the endangered animals, and due to the coronavirus, Uganda lost $1.6 billion this year in revenue. Across Africa, the tourism sinkhole has created a poaching boom, which scientists warn could fuel more pandemics.
It is especially worrisome as gorillas have been linked to Ebola outbreaks — another of which just popped up in nearby Congo.
The suspects were caught in a nearby village where they were found with hunting equipment.
One of the detained men, Byamukama Felix, claimed he had been hunting smaller animals in the park and that he killed Rafiki in self-defence when he was attacked, according to the UWA statement.
All of the men arrested for Rafiki’s killing face life imprisonment or a $5 million fine if found guilty of murdering an endangered species.