Poacher who killed a silverback gorilla jailed for 11 years

Felix Byamukama, the man who killed “Rafiki”, a silverback gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in June has been sentenced to 11 years in jail after pleading guilty to illegally entering a protected area and killing a gorilla.

According to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Byamukama had said earlier after his arrest that he killed the gorilla in self-defense after it had attacked him. He also pleaded guilty to killing other animals including a duiker, bush pig, as well as being found in possession of wildlife meat.

Previously, Byamukama had admitted to UWA that he and other 3 men had entered Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with the intention of hunting smaller animals but he killed Rafiki in self-defense when he was attacked.

Investigations carried in the aftermath of Rafiki’s death found out that the great ape was killed by a sharp object that penetrated and damaged his internal organs. Rafiki went missing on 1 June and his body was found the following day by a searching team from UWA.

The team from UWA launched an operation to find out the killers in which it tracked Byamukama to a nearby village, where he was found with hunting equipment.

Byamukama will now serve 3 sentences concurrently, leading to 11 years in prison though it falls short of the life sentence prescribed I the Wildlife Act. The other 3 suspects who were arrested together with Byamukama denied the charges and have been remanded back in jail awaiting trial.

Rafiki was the leading silverback of a 17-member gorilla group and was believed to be around 25 years old by the time of his death. The group was one of the habituated gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which were being visited by tourists.

After the demise of Rafiki, conservationists were worried that the group would be taken over by a wild silverback who would not want to come into contact with humans hence affecting tourism. However, UWA has since confirmed that the group is still intact and led by a backback from within the family.

Rafiki was one of the favorite gorillas to tourists who used to visit the park and the news of his death left many conservationists and wildlife lovers highly gutted.

The death of Rafiki at the hands of poachers was one of over 300 incidents that were recorded during the months of lockdown according to UWA. National parks around the country have been closed during the Coronavirus pandemic to control the spread of Covid-19 to both people and animals but this has paved way for the increase in poaching cases.

Mountain gorillas are a very important component of Uganda’s tourism fetching the country the a good amount of revenue from gorilla safaris for trekking these endangered primates in Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

There are about 1,063 mountain gorillas in the wild in total according to the latest gorilla census in 2018. This population is distributed between Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in the parks within the Virunga Massif in Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda.

In 2018, mountain gorilla was removed from the list of critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), thanks to the intensive conservation efforts that have led to a steady increase in their population in the previous few decades.

Gorilla safaris to trek mountain gorillas in their nature habitat are arranged throughout the year in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. Due to the high demand for the activity and conservation regulations, travelers are advised to book for gorilla trekking permits at least 6 months in advance. The best season to trek mountain gorillas is the dry season between June and September and between December and February.