A court in Uganda on Thursday sentenced a man to 11 years in prison for offenses including the killing of the beloved gorilla Rafiki in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The silverback gorilla was believed to be around 25 years old. He was found dead last month from a spear wound.
Felix Byamukama, a resident of a nearby village, was arrested and admitted to killing the gorilla, saying it was in self-defense, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
The authority said Byamukama was given an 11-year jail term for killing Rafiki “and other wildlife” in the park. He had pleaded guilty on three charges, including illegally entering the protected area and killing a duiker and a bush pig.
UWA executive director Sam Mwandha said: “We are relieved that Rafiki has received justice and this should serve as an example to other people who kill wildlife.”
Rafiki was head of a 17-member gorilla group called Nkuringo. The life expectancy of silverback gorillas in the wild is about 35 years.
The wildlife authority described the killing of Rafiki as a “great blow” after intensive conservation efforts. The population of the gorillas grew from around 680 individuals in 2008 to over 1,000.
The gorilla’s habitat is restricted to protected areas covering nearly 800 square kilometers (300 square miles) in two locations, the Virunga Massif and Bwindi-Sarambwe, which stretch across the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Rafiki’s murder came as poaching incidents were on the rise in Uganda, which had imposed a strict lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. “We have noticed a rise in incidents of poaching in our national parks following the closure of our tourism hubs because of COVID-19,” Mwandha told AFP. “Incidents of poaching are a cause for worry and
we have intensified patrols in parks.”