Now another beloved animal has been shockingly killed by poachers: Rafiki, a silverback gorilla who resided in the protection of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Rafiki was the leader of a group of 15 silverback gorillas, and a favorite among tourists.
Today it was announced that Rafiki has been killed by a trespassing hunter.
Rafiki was pronounced missing on June 1, and the gorilla was later found dead on the grounds with fatal stab wounds to his internal organs.
An investigation led to the arrest of four poachers. One of the men, a local villager named Byamukama Felix, was found with hunting equipment in his home and confessed to killing Rafiki.
He says they men had been hunting on the grounds when they encountered the gorillas, and he speared Rafiki in self-defense.
The hunters are currently in custody and awaiting sentencing. According to the BBC, they could potentially face a life sentence or a $5.4 million fine for killing an endangered animal.
The news of Rafiki’s death is devastating for so many reasons. He was one of the last members of an endangered species: there are only about 1,000 silverback gorillas in existence, so such a senseless death of any one of them is hard to bear.
But Rafiki’s death could also have a devastating impact on the group of gorillas he was leading. “The death of Rafiki leaves the group unstable and there is the possibility that it could disintegrate,” Bashir Hangi, from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, told the BBC.
“It has no leadership at this time and it could be taken over by a wild silverback.”
It’s also bad news for the park itself: the UWA relies on tourism for revenue. Most people visit the park to see the silverback gorillas, and Rafiki was a tourist favorite.
His death, and the potential disintegration of his group, could hurt the park’s income, putting their conservation efforts in jeopardy.
We’re devastated by this news — whenever a beautiful endangered animal is killed it’s just hard to make sense of it.
Rest in peace, Rafiki. We hope you get justice. Share this story with your thoughts.