WWF is pleased to learn of the arrest of four poachers in the Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park following the death of a gorilla known as Rafiki, the Silverback of the famous Nkuringo group.
The arrest follows investigations into the Silverback’s death by UWA personnel after a post-mortem report revealed that the Silverback sustained an injury by a sharp device/object that penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up to the internal.
Wildlife authorities say the men were apprehended in a nearby town after police sniffer dogs tracked their scent from the scene.
Evidence collected in the suspects’ homes further implicates them in the incident, officials say. Injured hunting dogs spotted by trackers near the gorilla’s body were also discovered in the homes of the suspects.
According to WWF officials, the news is very devastating. David Duli, the Country Director of WWF had this to say.
“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 stated that the news from Bwindi was devastating.
Rafiki, the silver back of Nkuringo gorilla group was reported missing in the group and 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, according to the most recent census numbers.
In the area where the incident occurred, officials from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (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” added David calling on the Courts to justly deal with the culprits if found guilty.
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.