The man responsible for the killing of Rafiki, Uganda’s most beloved mountain gorilla, received a prison sentence of 11 years on Thursday. Felix Byamukama has pleaded guilty to killing the gorilla and trespassing a protected area. He also admitted to killing a duiker, which is a small antelope as well as a bush pig. Byamukama may have killed many more as he was also caught in possession of duiker and bush pig meat upon his apprehension.
In his earlier statement to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the poacher said he only killed the silverback gorilla in self defence as it had attacked him. Byamukama confessed that he and his three other companions illegally entered Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with mere intentions of hunting small game but was forced to kill Rafiki after it threatened his life.
The majestic silverback was reported missing on June 1 and was found by a UWA security search party the next day. Byamukama was later found in a nearby village with his hunting equipment still on hand along with illegal meat. His three other accomplices however, have since denied the charges and were remanded in jail while they await their trial.
Byamukama was arrested on June 4 and will simultaneously serve several sentences leading to 11 years. According to a UWA spokesperson, earlier speculations of a possible life sentence fell through because he was not tried in a special wildlife court. His sentence was handed down by the Kabale Chief Magistrate’s Court.
Rafiki was estimated to be around 25 years old when he died. He was the top ape and the alpha leader of a group of 17 habituated mountain gorillas. This means his group has been acclimated to human contact.
In their investigations, Rafiki was found to have been killed by a sharp object and suffered fatal injuries as it had penetrated his internal organs.
As of now, conservationists are highly concerned that Rafiki‘s group might be taken over by an untamed silverback that may not be keen on having anything to do with human contact . This they say could greatly affect tourism. The UWA has confirmed sightings that the group is now led by a black-back from within the family circle and appear to be in stable ranks. The mountain gorillas have been a popular attraction for the park as well as the country. They have played a key contribution to tourist revenue and Rafiki was quite the beloved star to the park’s visitors.
Reports from BBC showed that since the coronavirus crisis, the UWA has seen an increase in poaching with more than 300 incidents during the lockdown period. The international Union for Conservation of Nature has now classified the mountain gorilla as endangered with only 1,000 remaining in existence.