Tragic! Uganda's most famous silverback gorilla Rafiki killed by poachers

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has arrested four poachers in connection with the killing of Rafiki, a well-known silverback gorilla

In a statement released today on its official Twitter account, UWA said the four alleged poachers were arrested in the southern part of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), which is located close to the country's Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border.

Rafiki was initially reported missing on 1 June. By 2 June, a search had ensued for the majestic mammal. His body was found in Hakato, BINP.

A post-mortem revealed that the silverback had been injured by a sharp object that penetrated his upper left abdomen and punctured his internal organs.

Upon investigation, UWA arrested a suspect who was found in possession of a spear, rope snares, wire snares, a dog hunting bell, and bush pig meat, which were all recovered from his home on 4 June.

The suspect is a resident of Kisoro District, located south of BINP.

The suspect said he was out hunting with another alleged poacher and killed Rafiki with a spear in self-defence when the gorilla charged at them.

He admitted to sharing the bush pig meat with two other suspects.

We have arrested four people over the death of Rafiki, the Silverback of Nkuringo Gorilla group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They will be prosecuted in the courts of law. See statement below;

— Uganda Wildlife (@ugwildlife) June 12, 2020

The four suspects are all in custody at Kisoro Police Station and are awaiting trial.

BBC reports that the four suspects could face a life sentence or a fine of US$5,4 million (R93 million) if they are found guilty of killing an endangered animal.

UWA's statement revealed that Rafiki was the leader of the Nkuringo gorilla group, the first group to be successfully habituated to BINP 23 years ago, in 1997.

Bashir Hangi from UWA said, "The death of Rafiki leaves the (gorilla) group unstable and there is the possibility that it could disintegrate.

"It has no leadership at this time and it could be taken over by a wild silverback."

At the time of Rafiki's death, the Nkuringo gorilla group had 17 members, including a silverback, three blackbacks, eight adult females, two juveniles and three infants.

We are devastated to hear about the killing of silverback Rafiki in Uganda. While poaching of mountain gorillas is rare, this is a sad reminder that mountain gorillas are a conservation-dependent species. We must continue to protect them.

— Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (@SavingGorillas) June 12, 2020