On June 01, 2020, Uganda Wildlife Authority Nkuringo gorilla family routine monitors realized that silverback Rafiki, the leader of the Nkuringo gorilla family was missing from the rest of the family.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority staff set off on a search for Rafiki and were able to locate Rafiki’s body on the 2nd of June. The body was retrieved from the jungles of Bwindi forest and examined by veterinary doctors from Gorilla Doctors.
Rafiki’s post-mortem revealed that the silverback had succumbed to serious injuries inflicted on him by a sharp object on his upper left abdomen, piercing part of the stomach wall and large intestine. Further investigations revealed that this wound was inflicted by a spear.
On June 11th, 2020, Uganda Wildlife Authority announced that they had apprehended 4 men for their involvement in the murder of Rafiki. Indeed, one of these men confessed to spearing Rafiki. He stated that while on their hunting expedition in Bwindi (hunting is outlawed in Bwindi because it is a gazetted National Park), they encountered Rafiki who charged at them. He stated that “in self-defense,” he speared Rafiki.
On a search in the homes of the suspects, lots of hunting equipment was found including spears, wire snares, ropes, and even wild hog meat.
Rafiki is the second mountain gorilla to be murdered in a similar way form Nkuringo Gorilla Group in just about one year. On May 21st, 2019, Kirungi’s body was found just the same way in Bwindi.
Implications of Rafiki’s Death on Nkuringo Gorilla Group
Since Rafiki was the only silverback for Nkuringo Gorilla group, his demise now means that the group could most likely break up in case the females choose to join other gorilla groups in Nkuringo area.
Alternatively, another silverback could come and take charge of the group. Things would flow in “like normal” if such a silverback was from an already habituated gorilla group. But if he was to come from a non-habituated gorilla group or that silverback himself is non-habituated then the group shall have to go through a fresh habituation process in order for it to start receiving tourists again.
As of now, Nkuringo gorilla group is undergoing very close monitoring by both Gorilla Doctors and Uganda Wildlife Authority, and this shall go on for a number of weeks.
Some information about Rafiki
Rafiki is a Swahili word for “good friend”. Rafiki was formerly a lone wild blackback which joined the habituated Nkuringo group in 2003. It is a very rare occurrence for a male to simply join a group without a fight. But on the fateful morning, when the trackers were going about their routine monitoring of Nkuringo group, they identified a new member who had never been part of this group. Ironically, the new non-habituated member was not wild at all, wasn’t charging toward the trackers. He was very amiable with the leader silverback of the the gorilla group. With all this, the trackers decided to name the new member Rafiki.
Wildlife Poaching in Uganda
In Uganda National Parks, poaching and illegal hunting is very rampant and leads to loss to precious wildlife including those of endangered species. Apart from the mountain gorillas, other wildlife like elephants, buffalo, chimpanzees, rhinos and pangolin are among those at high risk. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is in charge of protecting Uganda’s National Parks and through several community revenue sharing projects across the country, they have persuaded many to abandon poaching.
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