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Silverback gorilla Rafiki

WWF Condemns Killing of Beloved Silverback Gorilla Rafiki

by Max Pat
posted onJune 15, 2020

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a global environmental conservation organization has condemned the killing of Rafiki, the Silverback of the famous Nkuringo group at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP).

The silverback gorilla, named Rafiki, aged 25years was killed after it went missing on June 2. Its body was found the next day. Subsequently, four poachers have been arrested following investigations into the Silverback’s death by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) personnel after a post-mortem report revealed that Rafiki sustained an injury by a sharp object that penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up to the internal body parts.

According to David Duli, the Country Director of WWF, the news of Rafiki’s brutal death is very devastating. “Gorillas, like all wild animals, play an important role in their environment. Without these large-scale grazers eating lots of vegetation, the natural balance in the food chain would be disrupted. This could negatively affect other wildlife in the area, and ultimately the people who depend on that environment for food, water and other resources”, he said while condemning that act in the strongest terms.

Martin Asiimwe, the Coordinator of the Forests and Wildlife Program at WWF in Uganda equally condemned poaching activities, but was glad that the poachers have been arrested.

Rafiki, the silver back of Nkuringo gorilla group was reported missing in the group on June 2nd, 2020. A search was mounted and the body found in Hakato area inside BINP. Nkuringo Gorilla group was the first gorilla group to be habituated in the southern sector of BINP in 1997. At the time of Rafiki’s death, the group had 17 members; 1 silverback, 3 blackbacks, 8 adult females, 2 juveniles, and 3 infants. Although habituated, wild gorillas can still come into conflict with humans when they feel threatened.

Gorillas are important contributors to the Uganda tourism industry and the present anti-poaching strategies should be revisited and vigilance significantly increased. Each habituated mountain gorilla is estimated to generate $1 million per year in tourist dollars for the Ugandan economy.

A recent census showed an increase in the number of mountain gorillas to over 1000 in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. In the area where the incident occurred, officials from UWA together with WWF have been working with district governments, local leaders and community members to combat poaching and other illegal activities.

WWF supports the work of IGCP in the communities around Bwindi and other mountain gorilla habitats to reduce conflict between wildlife and people. Law enforcement and government protection tends to be more robust for mountain gorillas than for their western lowland gorilla cousins, who are also critically endangered and suffering rapid declines from poaching. Gorilla meat has become popular among wealthy elites in Central African cities.

"While poachers that kill even one legally protected animal are often held to account in mountain gorilla range, poachers can often bribe their way to freedom,” Duli said.

WWF is working with gorilla range governments to increase the number of wildlife rangers to protect against poachers. The organization also supports greater law enforcement cooperation between countries to disrupt illegal wildlife trade.

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