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Conservationists demand tougher penalty for silverback Rafiki’s killing

FILE PHOTO: Rafiki was killed by poachers after attacking them while hunting a wild pig.

Kisoro, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Conservationists and tour operators in Kigezi sub-region have condemned the killing of one of Uganda’s silverback Mountain Gorilla’s known as Rafiki.

Rafiki who was thought to be 25 years old went missing on June 1 and his body was discovered a day after at Hakato inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Kisoro district. At the time of his death, Rakifi was the head of a group of 17 Mountain Gorilla’s, one of those described as habituated because they were used to human contact.

According to the postmortem report from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Rafiki was killed by a sharp object which penetrated his internal organs. In the aftermath, four people who include Felix Byamukama, Evarist Bampabenda, Valence Museveni and Yonasi Mubangisi, all residents of Murole Village in Nyabwishenya sub county, Kisoro district were arrested and arraigned in court for the death.

After their arrest, Byamukama confessed to having speared the gorilla to death in self-defense after the group charged at him together with his fellow poachers while chasing a wild pig. He also surrendered a spear he used to kill the gorilla.

Now, Conservationists and tour operators say that the killing of Rafiki is an indication that Uganda’s fauna is harassed by inconsiderate poachers. Fidelis Kanyamunyu, the proprietor of Wagtail Eco Safari Camp in Kisoro district says that the incident should be an eye opener that protection of the rare gorilla’s is needed.

David Bekeine, the managing director at Eco travel Uganda says that Uganda’s tourism heavily relies on wildlife especially the rare mountain gorillas which are already endangered. He says that poaching of the already endangered species is dangerous for the country.

Christopher Ngabirano, the district councillor representing Ruhija sub-county which neighbors Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and also the director of AA Safaris and Tours Limited says that it is unfortunate that the locals are attacking the gorillas within their habitat. Ngabirano says the suspects in Rafiki’s death need to be given a heavy punishment in order to stop other poachers from playing with Uganda’s wildlife.

Engineer Ivan Mbabazi Batuma, the chairperson for Kigezi tourism cluster says that Rafiki’s killing is a very big loss because it may result into the scattering of the whole Nkuringo family. Batuma says that once such a family disappears, the tourism sector loses income in the form of revenue from tourists who always come to see them.

Batuma suspects that redundancy of some people neighbouring the parklike porters, local guides, handcraft makers resulting from Covid-19 lockdown could be the cause of an increase in cases of poaching. He adds that UWA should intensify protective measures against the endangered animals so that their continuous killing is stopped.

Wyclef Rushaju, the director of Gorillas and Beyond Safaris says that locals neighbouring the park need to stop focusing on poaching but start-up other income-generating projects to support their economic stability.

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