Four men have been arrested in connection with the death of one of the world’s most popular gorillas.
Silverback gorilla Rafiki, which translates as ‘friend’ in English, was killed in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, after going missing on June 1.
After a search party was sent to find him, his body was discovered the following day stabbed by what appeared to be a spear.
The 25-year-old male was the leader of a group of 17 endangered mountain gorillas, called Nkuringo, consisting of three other adult males, eight females, two juveniles and three infants.
They live at the UNESCO world heritage site near Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and are used to human contact.
In a statement, the state-run Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said the four men were detained for their role in the death of Rafiki.
The arrests followed UWA’s investigation of Rafiki’s death ‘after a postmortem 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 organs’.
One of the detained men, Byamykama Felix, of Murole villa, Kisoro District, had been found in possession of wild hog meat, rope and wire snares and spears, the statement said.
The man ‘confessed to killing the gorilla in self-defence,’ the statement said, adding he said it charged at him while he and a colleague, Bampabenda Evarist, were hunting in the park.
If they are convicted of killing the much-loved animal under a wildlife protection law, which was passed last year, they could face life imprisonment or fines of up to £4.3million.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority said the silverback’s death was a ‘very big blow’, reported The Telegraph.
The Nkuringo group’s home is a 320-sq-km patch of dense tropical forest that is home to primates, elephants, antelopes and other wildlife.
Tourists are however mostly drawn to the park by its estimated 400 mountain gorillas – roughly half the world´s population – but there are fears the group will be fearful of interacting with humans after the loss of their leader.
Poaching is rampant in Uganda’s game parks and police frequently announce seizures of illicitly acquired wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horns, pangolin scales and others.